Shadow Work

September 9th, 2019 by Dave Leave a reply »

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. The church and popular media primarily focus on sexuality and body issues as our “sinful” shadow, but that is far too narrow a definition. The larger and deeper shadow for Western individuals and culture is actually failure itself. Thus, the genius of the Gospel is that it incorporates failure into a new definition of spiritual success. This is why Jesus says that prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and religious elders (see Matthew 21:31).

Our success-driven culture scorns failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty. Yet Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by praising “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)! Just that should tell us how thoroughly we have missed the point of the Gospel. Nonviolence, weakness, and simplicity are also part of the American shadow self. We avoid the very things that Jesus praises, and we try to project a strong, secure, successful image to ourselves and the world. We reject vulnerability and seek dominance instead, and we elect leaders who falsely promise us the same.

I can see why my spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), made a revolutionary and pre-emptive move into the shadow self from which everyone else ran. In effect, Francis said through his lifestyle, “I will delight in powerlessness, humility, poverty, simplicity, and failure.” He lived so close to the bottom of things that there was no place to fall. Even when insulted, he did not take offence. Now that is freedom, or what he called “perfect joy”! [1]

Our shadow is often subconscious, hidden even from our own awareness. It takes effort and life-long practice to look for, find, and embrace what we dismiss, deny, and disdain. After spending so much energy avoiding the very appearance of failure, it will take a major paradigm shift in consciousness to integrate our shadow in Western upwardly mobile cultures. Just know that it is the false self that is sad and humbled by shadow work, because its game is over. The True Self, “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), is incapable of being humiliated. It only grows from such supposedly humiliating insight.

One of the great surprises on the human journey is that we come to full consciousness precisely by shadowboxing, facing our own contradictions, and making friends with our own mistakes and failings. People who have had no inner struggles are invariably superficial and uninteresting. We tend to endure them more than appreciate them because they have little to communicate and show little curiosity. Shadow work is what I call “falling upward.” Lady Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) put it best of all: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. And both are the mercy of God!” [2] God hid holiness quite well: the proud will never recognize it, and the humble will fall into it every day—not even realizing it is holiness.

Becoming Who You Are
Monday, September 9, 2019

I have learned much from the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). Jung brought together practical theology with good psychology. He surely was no enemy of religion; in fact, I would call him a mystic. Late in his life, when asked if he “believed” in God, Jung said, “I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.” [1]

However, Jung felt that Christianity contributed to a discontinuity—an unbridgeable gap—between God and the soul by over-emphasizing external rituals and intellectual belief instead of inner experience and inner transformation. He recognized that Christianity had some helpful theology (for Jung, Jesus Christ served as the central archetype revealing “the hidden, unconscious ground-life of every individual,” . . . and representing “the typical dying and self-transforming God” [2]), but it often had poor psychology and anthropology. Jung was disillusioned by his own father and six uncles, all Swiss Reformed pastors, whom he saw as unhappy and unintegrated. Jung basically said of Christianity: “It’s not working in real life!” [3]

Jung wouldn’t have fit the bill for the classic definition of a saint. He had a number of affairs and for a little while flirted with Nazism. He had a mixed past—don’t we all?—yet his very mistakes usually led him to recognize and heal the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others.

The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. Read that twice! As Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye” (Matthew 6:22). People who accept themselves accept others. People who hate themselves hate others. Only Divine Light gives us permission, freedom, and courage to go all the way down into our depths and meet our shadow.

For Jung, the God archetype is the whole-making function of the soul. It’s that part of you that always wants more, but not in a greedy sense. God is the inner energy within the soul of all things, saying, “Become who you are. Become all that you are. There is still more of you—more to be discovered, forgiven, and loved.” Jungian analytical psychology calls such growth and becoming “individuation,” which I like to think of as moving toward the life wish instead of the death wish. The life wish teaches us not to fragment, splinter, or split, but to integrate and learn from everything; whereas the ego moves toward constriction and separation or “sin.” The God archetype is quite simply love at work calling us toward ever deeper union with our own True Self, with others, and with God.

In the journey toward psychic wholeness, Jung stressed the necessary role of religion or the God archetype in integrating opposites, [4] including the conscious and the unconscious, the One and the many, good (by embracing it) and evil (by forgiving it), masculine and feminine, the small self and the Big Self. By “Self” with a capital “S,” Jung meant the deepest center of the psyche/soul that is in union with the Divine. And, if I understand him, it is shared! It is one and we are all participants, just as many mystics have asserted. I would call it the True Self, the Christ Self, or if you prefer, the Buddha Self, which has learned to consciously abide in union with the Presence within us (John 14:17).

Summary: Week Thirty-six

Cosmology: Part Two

September 1 – September 6, 2019

Evolution brings with it the rise of consciousness, and as consciousness rises, so too does awareness of God. —Ilia Delio (Sunday)

To see evolution as revelatory of the divine Word means that we come to see the various forms and rhythms of nature as reflective of divine qualities. —Ilia Delio (Monday)

For what we know and what we see are only shadows that cannot reflect the fullness of the cosmos or our place in it. —Barbara Holmes (Tuesday)

The universe forms one natural whole, which finally can subsist only by dependence from [Christ]. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Wednesday)

Christ is at the heart of all that moves us. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Thursday)

The human vocation is to be true co-workers with God and stewards of creation. —Denis Edwards (Friday)

Practice: Contemplating the Cosmos

The universe is not a tragic expression of meaningless chaos, but a marvelous display of an orderly cosmos. —Martin Luther King, Jr. [1]

Dr. Barbara Holmes suggests that the emerging story of the universe might have the power to actually heal:

From the intersection of theology, cosmology, physics, and culture emerges a view of human life that is not divided neatly along categories of race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation. Instead, human life on quantum and cosmic levels evinces a oneness that is not dependent on religious hope or social plan. It is an intrinsic element of a universe that is both staggering and healing in its human/divine scope. [2]

Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, says, “Our molecules are traceable to stars that exploded and spread these elements across the galaxy.” He explains:

[If you] see the universe as something you participate in—as this great unfolding of a cosmic story—that, I think should make you feel large, not small. . . . You will never find people who truly grasp the cosmic perspective . . . leading nations into battle. . . . When you have a cosmic perspective there’s this little speck called Earth and you say, “You’re going to what? You’re on this side of a line in the sand and you want to kill people for what? Oh, to pull oil out of the ground, what? WHAT?” . . . Not enough people in this world, I think, carry a cosmic perspective with them. It could be life-changing. [3]

Science reveals that everything is both matter and energy or spirit, co-inhering as one. This is a Christocentric universe. That realization changes everything. Matter is holy; the material world is our temple where we can worship God simply by loving and respecting matter. The Christ is God’s active power inside the physical world. [4]

How might we begin to experience this cosmic or universal perspective? We might begin by looking to the sky. Here are a few ways to practice growing this cosmic consciousness.

Find a place where you can sit or lie down with a view of a clear night sky. Just look up and let your eyes open to the vastness before you. Notice the light you can see and travel in your imagination to the source of that light and even further. Lose yourself completely in the deep, mysterious, and unimaginably vast universe. [5]

Contemplate the size of the universe:

  • There are at least 200 billion galaxies in our universe.
  • There are at least 100-200 billion planets in our galaxy alone, the Milky Way.
  • That means there are at least 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (one septillion) planets in the universe.
  • And you are a part of it. . . .

Reflect on your life as a whole and consider Barbara Holmes’ words from earlier this week:

Solutions [in our desire for justice] may always be out of reach, but our chances of success are better when our efforts are invested with the humility that comes only with an inward and upward glance, for we are carrying our possibilities within the resonance of starborn and interconnected selves. [6]


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