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As a Logotherapist and Existential Analyst I’m often asked what my favourite Viktor Frankl quote is. Such a difficult question! There are so many profoundly moving and insightful words contained in his writings and now very firmly ensconced in his legacy.

If I had to choose though, it would be a sentence I’ve clung onto many times as I’ve faced adversity, failure and unavoidable suffering:

But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” (in Man’s Search for Meaning).

No further comment or exegesis is required…….

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Posted: April 16, 2017 in Uncategorized

I don’t post all that much on this blog at the moment; it’s much easier for me to share thoughts/links/stories via Facebook & Twitter.  You can follow my regular postings at:

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Text of a sermon preached at Cliftonville Moravian Church on 19th February 2017:

The Hebrew word for dream occurs 55 times in the Old Testament.  In the New Testament, the equivalent Greek word only occurs 6 times.  So it’s quite evident that the Hebrew Bible is richer in dream-like imagery than the Gospels and the Epistles.  Why might this be? Well, there’s certainly a cultural component and the understanding amongst the Hebrews and Isrealites that dreams transmit important information, and perhaps more importantly, were seen as revelations from God.

We all know what dreams are, but it’s really quite hard to describe them.  Eminent psychological thinkers such as Freud and Jung thought of dreams as a window into our unconscious.  For example, in Freud’s book published one hundred and seventeen years ago – ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ – he describes the dream as the ‘royal road to the unconscious’; I love that descriptor.  But then Jung developed Freud’s thinking and expanded the understanding of dreams – he suggested that we had both an individual unconscious, but also a collective one too.  The implications of this are complicated, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Suffice it to say that we bring cultural and religious notions that reside deep in our subconscious, to the table, and these complement and inform what is unique to each and every one of us.


This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Flag of Germany.svg Attribution: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely

There was another Psychiatrist though who thought much about dreams and their importance – a man I’ve spoken about often: Viktor Frankl.  And he says this: ‘There is, in fact, a religious sense deeply rooted in each an every man’s unconscious depths’.  So for Frankl, the content of our dreams are necessarily religious, or perhaps more accurately, spiritual, in content and form.  And that’s fascinating given what I’m about to say about the Old Testament concept of dream analysis, and also what I’ve just said about it in passing.

But wait a moment.  I’ve said something about the content of dreams, but does not the unconscious and unconscious intertwine; are they two completely separate entities? And crucially, how do we interpret them? And that’s perhaps the most important point; the mechanics of it all is secondary to what the dream is telling us.  Traditional dream analysis works on the principle that during sleep our unconscious becomes conscious and we get a different, fuller, perspective on reality.

This is a quite brilliant quote ion dreams from the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, that helps us to understand the nature of dreams and dreaming:

‘Bergson conceives of a dream as being the direct link between sensation and memory; being constructed around what we have seen, said, desired, or done, and their elaboration depends on memory images collected and preserved in the unconscious since earliest childhood. The same faculties function when we dream as when we are awake, but in one instance they are tense and in the other relaxed. The fullness of our mental life is available in our dreams, but with a minimum of tension, effort, or movement’.

I like that last sentence in particular: ‘The fullness of our mental life is available in our dreams, but with a minimum of tension, effort, or movement’.  Our lives become so much fuller when we understand our dream life.


But back to the Theological emphasis for a moment.  Again, according to the Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, there are three main ‘types’ of dream: The first can best be described as natural (Eccl 5:3); the second is divine, or from God (Gen 28:12), and the third is a different category altogether – evil (Deut 13:1, 2; Jer 23:32). But the most important, and frequent issue the word ‘dream’ in the Old Testament relates to a message, in some shape or form, from God.

So let’s consider our reading for today. The Pharaoh, a man to be feared, had had a previous set of dreams and had asked all manner of individuals to interpret them for him; he was angst ridden and had no idea what the future held for him.  And none of us, especially when we feel like we are in a particularly precarious position, like or can even tolerate uncertainty.


The Pharaoh repeated the dreams that he had to Joseph, adding only slightly more detail, that is the comments about the ugliness of the cows; this was obviously significant for him, although like many aspects of our dreams, is rather strange. It seems that he equates ugliness with ‘evil’ and contrasts it with ‘good’ cows.

So we have good and evil, a construct that ultimately comes from God.  There’s continuity here – the earlier chapters of Genesis are, of course, all about good and evil. The dream is a vehicle for exploring this and making a truth apparent.

The Pharoah’s dream comes from a troubling subconscious that makes itself known in his conscious world.  And his dreams repeat themselves until he gets some form of resolution to what they mean and what they’re telling him.  You may have experienced this yourself.  We often have what are called ‘stress dreams’ that are repetitive and appear on the scene when we’re worried about something, someone or some situation. Or maybe our consciences are troubling us – we’ve done something we shouldn’t have, or we omitted to do something we should have.

So, we can learn a huge amount from dreams. I’d love to spend so much more time on this topic – it’s so rich and deep and meaningful. From our faith perspective, our Old Testament is particularly rich in this respect.  Freud and Jung have some points of contact with OT dream analysis, but perhaps the most ‘connected and holistic analyst was Viktor Frankl.  His book ‘The Unconscious God’ is a perfect example of how important our religious and spiritual lives are and how they manifest themselves in our dream lives. His foresight and insight can be used by you and I today; we don’t need to be trained in dream analysis – although that can help – we just need to pay attention to our dreams and our lives.

May we dream well and may we dream productively!


This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.Flag of Germany.svg Attribution: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Attribution: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”  Viktor Frankl (Psychiatrist, Holocaust Survivor and Author of ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’).

Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. Learn how to contemplate works of art. Learn how to pray in the streets or in the country. Know how to meditate not only when you have a book in your hand but when you are waiting for a bus or riding in a train.

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

The Merton Fellowship for Peace & Contemplative Living in Ireland will be meeting at All Souls Church, Elmwood Avenue, Belfast on Saturday 29th November from 11am-4pm.

The retreat, entitled ‘Merton on Meditation’ will consist of periods of meditation, reflection and discussion.

Our events are ecumenical and are open to all.

There is no need to have any prior knowledge of Merton.

Please contact me ( to book your place. There will be a small charge (£10) to cover costs. Please bring along a packed lunch; alternatively there are a number of cafes nearby.

Heat or Eat poster

Northern Ireland has the worst fuel poverty levels in the UK. The local Church Action on Poverty group in Northern Ireland is building partnerships and providing much needed practical assistance.

 Scott Peddie, Chair of the Northern Ireland group, explains what they have been doing:

According to the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition, around 300,000 households in Northern Ireland cannot afford to heat their homes. Northern Ireland has the highest prevalence of fuel poverty in the UK and one of the highest in the EU; the most recent estimates indicate that 42% of households are experiencing fuel poverty.

It’s against this backdrop that the NI branch of Church Action on Poverty launched its ‘Heat or Eat’ Campaign in 2010.  Focusing on the South Antrim area, where most of the NI branch committee members live and work, the campaign was a response to what we were hearing on the ground.

The shocking reality for many families living in the South Antrim area is they face the stark choice each winter of heating or eating.

Moreover, the increasing cost of home heating combined with rising living costs places many individuals and families in a desperate predicament.

As Christians from across the denominations, we were very much aware of our duty to help the vulnerable among us, many of them hidden and voiceless. Church Action on Poverty NI’s campaign is therefore grounded in the biblical injunction exemplified in 1 John 3:18 to demonstrate Christian care in action:‘Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth’.

Our campaign, which essentially asked local churches, businesses and concerned individuals to contribute to a central fund, raised a modest amount in the first year.  Donations were received from Presbyterian, Anglican and Baptist churches and community groups among others.

Our aim was, and still is, simple: to provide gifts of heating oil, gas and electricity to those most in need. Moreover, we had the specific aim of enabling local people to help local people in need over the Christmas/New Year period.

In order to do this most effectively, Church Action on Poverty NI built a coalition of partners to help raise funds, administer the scheme, identify needy families and to distribute grants. Our particular focus in the early years was to help struggling vulnerable young families.

Heat or Eat photo

Today, our coalition of partners includes Citizen Advice Bureau (Antrim and Newtownabbey), the Newtownabbey Methodist Mission, Home-Start Antrim and local MLA Danny Kinahan. In addition to identifying needy families, the CABs offer benefit checks for people involved in our scheme, while Home-Start has particular expertise in working with young families. Mr Kinahan has been invaluable in raising funds and in increasing the profile of the campaign among the local business community.

Given the success of the ‘Heat or Eat’ campaign to date, we look forward to continuing to raise money and build partnerships during 2014.

The problem of fuel poverty, as we and our partners experience it on the ground, is not going away; with more money we could do even more in our local community to help those people who desperately need it.

But there are, of course, wider policy implications for our legislators and representatives.  Fuel poverty is an injustice that requires concerted cross-party efforts, both in Northern Ireland and across the UK. Church Action on Poverty NI will therefore continue to lobby our local and Westminster politicians on this issue, as well as running our ‘Heat or Eat’ campaign, and we look forward to making substantial progress on both fronts.

For further information, visit the Church Action on Poverty NI website at:, or the main site at:

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Image courtesy of stockimages at

A recent study by Northeastern University’s David DeSteno, published in Psychological Science, gives a fascinating insight into the impact of meditation on interpersonal harmony and compassion.

According to DeSteno, “The truly surprising aspect of this finding is that meditation made people willing to act virtuous – to help another who was suffering – even in the face of a norm not to do so,”  

Such empirical investigations add credence to what Buddhist practitioners have said all along, namely that meditation leads to greater feelings of compassion and ‘oneness’. And it’s not just Buddhists: Jews and Christians have long made the connection between compassion and contemplative prayer.

Often we over-analyze faith and how we live it when all we really need to do is to keep it simple….and nothing is more simple than meditation and contemplation….and nothing is as powerful than compassion.

You can read the press release from Northeastern University outlining the key points of DeSteno’s paper here:

Can Meditation Make You a More Compassionate Person?.

Image courtesy of Ambro /

Image courtesy of Ambro /

According to, Oxford Neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor made a very thought-provoking comment recently during a talk at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales.  When asked what positive developments she anticipated in neuroscience in the next 60 years, rawstory states the following:

‘“One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated,” she explained, according to The Times of London. “Somebody who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.”’

Taylor’s statement raises many questions.  How is ‘fundamentalism’ to be defined? Is it right to medicalize belief systems that are held in the absence of other manifestations of mental illness/disturbance? How should the ‘disturbance’ be treated?

Personally, I find the Austrian Psychiatrist and founder of Logotherapy/Existential Analysis (or the Third School of Viennese Psychotherapy), Viktor Frankl, to have the most sensible approach to fundamentalist ideology.  Frankl would point out that when a person’s religious worldview becomes distorted, it ceases to fulfill its function and a spiritual malaise develops.  That malaise can only be rectified by re-discovering the core meaning at the heart of a religious experience.  Once the individual  recognises the freedom that  now exists to change his/her way of thinking, life has renewed meaning and the spiritual dimension is expressed in a more positive manner. Crucially, the spiritual dimension of the individual’s life is affirmed and developed, not denied.

You can read the rawstory article here and make up your own mind.


Dear Friends,

The next Merton Fellowship day retreat will be held on Saturday 9th March 2013 at University Road Moravian Church, Belfast (

The topic of the retreat is ‘Practicing Lectio Divina & Contemplative Prayer’; it will begin at 10am and finish at 4pm, with refreshments provided (please bring a packed lunch).

As with all of our activities, it is open to all, regardless of denominational/faith group affiliation or knowledge of Merton and his work. An interest in peace and contemplative prayer/meditation is all that is required.

To book your place, please contact me at

God bless,

Dawn Loggins grew up in a home with no electricity or running water. Her home life was chaotic.

Before the start of her senior year at Burns High School, where she also works as a janitor, she was abandoned by her parents and found herself homeless.

Rather than turning her over to the Department of Social Service, school staff and the community of Lawndale, North Carolina decided to become Dawn’s family. They’ve supported her with housing and have helped her to complete her secondary school education.

Dawn is an incredibly hard worker and has maintained her grades despite the emotional and financial hardship she’s endured.

Dawn is not angry with her parents – she just knows that she wants to make different decisions in her life. And this she has done already – her grades are excellent and she’s even been accepted by Harvard.

The Lawndale community are so proud of Dawn’s achievements, they have agreed to support her through her Harvard studies.

Dawn’s story is so heartwarming; it reminds us all that we really can make a difference to the lives of others. Community really can work! As the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.’

 You can watch Dawn’s inspirational story here: From Homeless to Harvard