Tag Archives: Freud’s Last Session

A Grumpy Old Men Adventure

As mentioned in previous posts, my friend Kevin McQ and I are in a production of the one-act play Freud’s Last Session scheduled for October 17-20 (Dates have changed!). The play imagines a meeting between Sigmund Freud (just weeks from his death) and C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis’ desk at the Marion E. Wade Center.

As part of our research of Lewis we became aware of the Marion E. Wade Center on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. The center hosts an archive of Lewis’ writing and correspondence along with a collection of Lewis’ possessions including his desk and his childhood wardrobe.

This prompted an idea for a one-day Grumpy Old Men marathon adventure for Kevin and me. So it was that we departed Pella at 4:00 a.m. this past Friday morning and drove in a cold rain all the way to Wheaton College. We pulled up to the Wade Center at promptly 9:00 a.m. when they opened. My nephew Sam is in grad school at Wheaton and hooked us up with his friend, Aaron, who works at the Center.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Desk

Aaron gave us a tour of the Wade center. We got to see (and touch) the Wardrobe (For Wendy’s benefit, I checked to see if maybe…) and Lewis’ desk where he penned many of his books. There was also the desk of J.R.R. Tolkien where he wrote The Hobbit and much of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. As a lover of writing instruments  I also enjoyed seeing both Lewis’ and Tolkien’s fountain pens. The archive there contains an exhaustive collection of Lewis’ voluminous correspondence. Both Kevin and I wished we’d had more time in the schedule to explore the archive.

Chicago’s Red Line train to Addison.

It was still raining when we caught the 10:55 train from Wheaton to Chicago. We walked in the rain to catch the Red Line to Addison and then walked to Wrigley Field for the Cubs’ 1:20 p.m. game agains the Cincinnati Reds. It was our good fortune that the rain stopped just as we entered Wrigley and held off for the entire game. We watched Alec Mills on the mound for the Northsiders in his MLB debut. He pitched a gem and even notched his first MLB hit. The game also included Daniel Murphy’s first home run as a Cub and the Cubs won the game in the bottom of the 10th with a walk-off homer by David Bote. Stellar afternoon!

Kevin and I retraced our tracks back to Wheaton and it was raining again by the time we arrived. We drove back to Pella, arriving just before midnight. A memorable 20 hour adventure!

Faith, Strength, and Suffering

After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord.
2 Chronicles 12:1 (NIV)

I am currently doing character work and studying my lines for a play I’ll be in this October. It’s a brilliant piece of historical fiction called Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain. I play the great 20th century Christian writer and thinker, C.S. Lewis. Lewis pays a visit to fellow 20th century intellectual Sigmund Freud (who will be played by my dear friend, Kevin McQuade) who was a staunch atheist. The play is set in the final weeks of the eminent psychologist’s life. Freud had escaped Nazi Germany and set up his practice in London. Ironically, the battle of world views between these two great thinkers happens to take place on the very day Britain declares war on Germany.

As Lewis and Freud discuss the nature of human suffering, Lewis makes the following observation: “We don’t think of God when we’re motoring in the countryside, only when we’re stuck on the railroad tracks and see the train coming.”

This line came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter about King Rehoboam. The opening line of the Chronicler’s account states that Rehoboam and the nation abandoned the law of the Lord after “his position had been established and he had become strong.” In other words, Rehoboam clung to the religion of his father, grandfather, and ancestors while he was struggling, when his kingdom was in crisis, when the rebel Jereboam was leading 10 of the 12 Hebrew tribes against him, and when his grip on the throne was in doubt. As soon as his power was shored up and he regained his strength, God was no longer a necessity.

Lewis’ observation is simple, but it captures what I have observed in my own Life journey to be a very human trait. When things are going well and life is easy, when I’m experiencing a runner’s high on the road of life, then it’s easy to trust my own strength and fortune. I don’t feel a particular need for divine connection, intervention, or faith. It’s when the shit hits the proverbial fan and I’m suffering from circumstances that are out of my control that I suddenly feel the need for connection and intervention from divine power that is outside of myself. In the play, Lewis follows the previous text I quoted with his now famous line: “If pleasure is [God’s] whisper, pain is his megaphone.”

For the record, Freud responds to Lewis by arguing the opposite. He views his sufferings (and all suffering in the world) are reason to doubt and discredit any notions of God and faith. It’s a fascinating play. You should come see it ;-).

This morning I’m thinking about my current stretch on Life’s road. I’m looking back at my own experiences in both times of strength and times of suffering. Is there a contrast in my own faith during those contrasting stretches of the journey? Does my faith wane when I’m cruising along on Life’s road experiencing runner’s high? Is my faith only intense in proportion to the intensity of suffering I’m feeling in the moment? I’d like to think not. Jesus said that the sun shines and the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous. Times of strength and times of suffering are common to every person. My faith is central to either circumstance. It’s my sunscreen on life’s beach, my umbrella in life’s storm.

Note: Freud’s Last Session is a private production sponsored by the theatre department of Central College in Pella, Iowa. Performances will be October 24-27, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

Micro Aggressions; Macro Issues

The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff.
Numbers 20:7-8, 11a (NIV)

I’m currently doing character study for a play my friend and I are producing next year entitled Freud’s Last Session. The script is a “What if?” play that imagines an ailing Sigmund Freud inviting a young C.S. Lewis for a visit in his study in London. Freud escaped Nazi Germany to England where he worked and lived out the end of his life. The play is set on the day Britain entered war with Germany. The two intellectuals match wits for an hour on matters of life, death, faith, and the impending war.

In the play Freud makes an argument against Hitler’s use of Christianity and religion to support his fascist regime. Lewis concedes that the institutional church is an easy target. History is filled with evil done in the name of God.

The truth is, however, that what is true on a macro level (e.g. the institutional church in Germany supporting Hitler’s evil regime) can also exist on the micro level (e.g. me doing the wrong thing and cloaking it in spiritual motives). I have no control over the macro level concerns of the institutional church, but I do control my own thoughts, words, and actions.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrew tribes are once again in grumbling mode. The wayfaring nation is camped in the desert and there is no good water source. A couple million people wandering in the desert require a lot of water to survive. Let the rebellion commence.

Per the systemic pattern that’s been well established at this point, the people’s grumbling complaints prompt Moses and Aaron to go before God and throw themselves on the ground in exasperation. Also well established by this point is the fact that God has proven to come through with provision when the survival of the people is at stake. God tells Moses to “speak” to a rock there in the camp and it will miraculously produce flowing water.

Moses, however, goes on a bit of a rant against his grumbling people and “raises his hand” to strike the rock. In his rage Moses strikes the rock not once, but twice.

Moses actions are a micro level spiritual problem with macro implications. God was very specific about speaking to the rock. Moses lost his temper and went postal on the thing. My first impression is that it seems a small matter for God to get upset about, but as every psychologist knows micro aggressions hide macro issues. As Freud explains to Lewis in Freud’s Last Session, what his patients tell him is not as important as what they don’t.

This morning I’m doing a little spiritual inventory. Are there places in my life where I’m striking when God has directed me to speak? Are there places in life in which I’m speaking or acting for my own self-centered motives and cloaking under a guise of “doing it for the Lord”?

“Freud’s Last Session”

C.S. Lewis
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Psalm 146:2 (NIV)

Wendy and I went to see a wonderful play last night entitled Freud’s Last Session. It is set in the early days of World War II. Sigmund Freud fled Vienna and sought refuge in London. It is 1939 and his death from oral cancer is imminent. The play is a “what if” imagining in which the brilliant psychoanalyst and staunch atheist calls a young Oxford Professor and  Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, to visit him in his London office.

The two intellectuals spar conversationally for an hour and twenty minutes about life, death, God, religion, history, sex, and family. There is precious little agreement but plenty of humorous jabs and flashes of passionate verbal conflict in-between very poignant human moments. The German Blitz and impending war is a present reality in the room as is Freud’s impending death. Their world views are polar opposites and in conflict with one another, yet under the tense debate between proud, brilliant scholars is a respectful curiosity of the opponent, a delight in the conversation and the desire understand.

There is no “winner” or “loser” in the play. Neither man is convinced or converted. In the final minutes through his coughing up blood, Freud makes his declaratory statement that the truth he sees is that “the end [e.g. death] is the end.” Lewis amicably departs his session with Freud, and each audience member is left to weigh the arguments themselves and carry on the conversation.

I woke up this morning thinking about the play, the men, and their respective world views. As I read the psalmist’s lyric above, I thought of Lewis, the story of his conversion, and his personal faith journey which . I have a story like his, and I closely identified with the faith and world view which molded Lewis’ own life journey for another 34 years after the play’s end. I can’t imagine my life apart from my faith. Like the psalmist, like Lewis, it is a faith journey which I will walk to my grave. At the same time, because of my faith I can’t imagine not loving and respecting those who don’t share it. Even those who passionately disagree with me.

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