Meditating on the Sermon on the Mount

Peacemakers

Meditating on the Sermon on the Mount
Thursday, September 19, 2019

You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” —Matthew 5:43-44

In addition to the Bhagavad Gita, Mahatma Gandhi considered the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) some of the greatest writing on nonviolence. John Dear, a friend and an organizer for this week’s Campaign Nonviolence, writes:

Gandhi . . . read from the Sermon on the Mount nearly every morning and evening for over forty years. Although he wasn’t a Christian, he decided early on to live his life according to Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. As he wrote in his autobiography, the first time he read them, probably in the 1890s in Durban, South Africa, they went “straight to my heart.” Such teachings as “Offer no violent resistance to evil; turn the other cheek; and if [anyone] takes away your coat, give [them] your cloak as well,” he wrote, “delighted me beyond measure.” [1]

“When I came to the New Testament and the Sermon on the Mount, I began to understand the Christian teaching,” he wrote. “The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount echoed something I had learnt in childhood and something which seemed to be part of my being and which I felt was being acted [out] in the daily life around me.” [2] “I saw that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for [those] who wanted to live a Christian life. It is that Sermon which has endeared Jesus to me.” [3] “The gentle figure of Christ, so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught His followers not to retaliate when abused or struck, but to turn the other cheek—I thought it was a beautiful example of the perfect [human being].” [4] . . .

From a Gandhian perspective, Jesus is the epitome of nonviolence. . . . He forms his community of disciples to practice his way of nonviolence, and he sends them out as “sheep into the midst of wolves” [Matthew 10:16] to announce God’s reign of peace. When Jesus’ own grassroots campaign of nonviolence reaches Jerusalem, he engages in nonviolent civil disobedience in the Temple, is arrested, tortured, and executed, and yet remains perfectly nonviolent unto his last breath. Even in his resurrection, Jesus practices nonviolence. He does not utter a word of revenge, anger, or retaliation. Instead, he makes breakfast for those who once abandoned him [John 21:9] and gives them his resurrection gift of peace. . . .

Gandhi disciplined himself to read daily from the Sermon on the Mount, and live according to those teachings. Because of this commitment, he helped liberate both South Africa and India from systemic violence and showed the world the power of active nonviolence. In the process, Gandhi, a Hindu, became a Christ-like figure, “the greatest Christian of modern times,” according to Martin Luther King Jr.

References:
[1] Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography, or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, trans. Mahadev Desai (Navajivan Publishing House: 1996, ©1927), 58. See Gandhi on Christianity, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1991), 5.

[2] Mahatma Gandhi, “The Jesus I Love,” Young India, vol. 13, no. 53 (December 31, 1931), 429. See Ellsberg, 21.

[3] Ibid. See Ellsberg, 22.

[4] Millie Graham Polak, Mr. Gandhi: The Man (George Allen & Unwin Ltd.: 1931), 40. See Ellsberg, 12.

John Dear, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life (Twenty-Third Publications: 2016), 10-12. Learn more about Campaign Nonviolence at paceebene.org/action-week.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Cultivating Nonviolence

Peacemakers

Cultivating Nonviolence
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, first go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. —Matthew 5:23-24

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount describes unconditional love in action. Tomorrow we’ll explore Mahatma Gandhi’s appreciation for the Sermon on the Mount. Today Eknath Easwaran continues reflecting on how nonviolence flows from our state of being:

Gandhi’s mission was not really the liberation of India. That was a tremendous achievement, but India was essentially a showcase, a stage for the world to see what nonviolence can accomplish in the highly imperfect world of real life. . . .

In today’s language, Gandhi gave us the basis for a technology of peace. He gave us tools for resolving conflicts of all kinds, which anyone can learn to use. But it is urgent to understand his message that nonviolence is a way of thinking, a way of life, not a tactic, but a way of putting love to work in resolving problems, healing relationships, and generally raising the quality of our lives. We don’t begin on the grand stage he acted on; he did not begin that way himself. He began with his personal relationships, aware that he could not expect to put out the fires of anger and hatred elsewhere if the same fires smoldered in his own home and heart. His nonviolence is not a political weapon or a technique for social change so much as it is an essential art—perhaps the essential art—of civilization.

In other words, nonviolence is a skill, just like learning to read. Love is a skill. The transformation of anger is a skill. All these can be learned. We cannot say we aren’t capable of nonviolence; all we can say is we are not willing to do what is necessary to learn.

Finally, for spiritual seekers of all persuasions, Gandhi showed us that the spiritual life need not mean retiring to a monastery or cave. It can be pursued in the midst of family, community, and a career of selfless service. Even without reference to spirituality, if we look upon the overriding purpose of life as making a lasting contribution to our family and society, Gandhi gave us a higher image for ourselves, a glorification of the innate goodness in the human being, whose joy lies in living for the welfare of all. This is Gandhi’s ultimate message for us, and no sentence of his is more significant than when he says—and remember, this is a man who never let even a word stand if he did not know it to be true from his own experience—“I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.” [1]

References:
[1] Mahatma Gandhi, “Heading for Promiscuity,” Harijan, vol. 4, no. 34 (October 3, 1936), 269.

Eknath Easwaran, Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World (Nilgiri Press: 1972, 2011), 22-23.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Embodying Nonviolence

Peacemakers

Embodying Nonviolence
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) used to say that every world religion knows that Jesus taught nonviolence, lived nonviolently, and died a nonviolent death except one: Christianity! Gandhi took the Gospel and his own Hindu texts seriously. He believed our core identity is union with God and that the fruit of this union is nonviolence. As he wrote, “Non-violence is not like a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” [1] More than just talking about these beliefs, Gandhi embodied them. Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999), whom I introduced a few weeks ago, described his first encounter with Gandhi:

When the cottage door opened, out popped a lithe brown figure of about seventy with the springy step and mischievous eyes of a teenager, laughing and joking with those around him. He was striding off for his evening walk and motioned us to come along. After a while most of the crowd fell away. He didn’t simply walk fast; he seemed to fly. With his white shawl flapping and his gawky bare legs he looked like a crane about to take off. I have always been a walker, but I had to keep breaking into a jog to keep up with him.

My list of questions was growing. This was a man in his seventies—the twilight of life by Indian standards of those days—burdened daily with responsibility for four hundred million people. He must have lived under intense pressure. . . . Why didn’t he get burned out? . . . What was the source of his apparently endless vitality and good humor?

After the walk it was time for Gandhi’s prayer meeting. . . . A Japanese monk opened with a Buddhist chant and then a British lady began one of Gandhi’s favorite hymns, John Henry Newman’s “Lead, Kindly Light.” Gandhi had closed his eyes in deep concentration, as if absorbed in the words.

Then his secretary, Mahadev Desai, began to recite from the Bhagavad Gita, India’s best-known scripture, which is set on a battlefield which Gandhi said represents the human heart. [2] In the verses being recited, a warrior prince named Arjuna, who represents you and me, asks Sri Krishna, the Lord within, how one can recognize a person who is aware of God every moment of his life. And Sri Krishna replies. . . .

They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, whose love for the Lord of love has consumed every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart. Not agitated by grief or hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers. [3]

[Gandhi] had become those words. . . . “Free from selfish desires” didn’t mean indifference; it meant not trying to get anything for yourself, giving your best whatever comes without depending on anything except the Lord within. . . . [Gandhi] spoke of making himself zero but seemed to have become instead a kind of cosmic conduit, a channel for some tremendous universal power, an “instrument of peace.”

These verses from the Gita are the key to Gandhi’s life. . . . They tell us not what to do with our lives but what to be. And they are universal. We see essentially the same portrait in all scriptures, reflected in the lives of spiritual aspirants everywhere.

References:
[1] Mahatma Gandhi, “Has Non-Violence Limits?” Young India, vol. 8, no. 32 (August 12, 1926), 286. See M. K. Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War (Navajivan Publishing House: 1944), 71.

[2] Mahatma Gandhi, Discourses on the Gita, trans. Valji Govindji Desai (Navajivan Publishing House: 2006, ©1960), 12.

[3] Bhagavad Gita, 2:54-57 (Easwaran’s paraphrase).

Eknath Easwaran, Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World (Nilgiri Press: 1972, 2011), 17-18, 20.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Learning Nonviolence

Peacemakers

Learning Nonviolence
Monday, September 16, 2019

This week I’ll share a couple reflections from Ken Butigan and John Dear, two leaders of Campaign Nonviolence, a grassroots movement organized by Pace e Bene. Nonviolent actions are taking place all over the United States and world this week! [1] In the face of gun violence, racism, climate change, poverty, and other injustices, courageous people are turning toward peaceful solutions. Ken Butigan recalls the beginnings of his education in nonviolence at the University of San Diego:

I learned that Jesus was a maker of peace, an agent of restorative justice, and a proponent of what we might call “responsibility to protect nonviolently,” as in the case of the woman accused of adultery who was about to be executed when Jesus intervened, neither with justified violence or hand-wringing passivity, but instead, at great risk to himself, with a creative and thought-provoking nonviolent action that saved the woman’s life and saved the men from carrying the burden and terror of the guilt of homicide [John 8:3-11]. . . .

In his time of foreign occupation and oppression, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. . . . I [heard], as if for the first time, Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies [Matthew 5:44] and for us to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil [Matthew 5:39], and I was forced to reflect deeply on the actions Jesus took to dramatize this call, including urging [his disciple Peter] to put down his sword as the soldiers were arresting him in the garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:52]. . . .

Jesus is the revelation and embodiment of our Nonviolent God, whose sun shines on the good and the evil alike [Matthew 5:45]. I would come to learn therefore that nonviolence was ontological, at the heart of God, the God who created the universe and said that it was good [Genesis 1]. . . . Nonviolence is not ineffective, passive, weak, utopian, naïve, unpatriotic, marginal, simplistic, or impractical, but it recognizes evil in the world and responds to it with good.

I would come to learn that that nonviolence is actively confronting violence without violence; creatively engaging conflict; and nurturing just, peaceful, and sustainable alternatives. . . .

In the 1980s, that included taking nonviolent action to build people-power to support an end to the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, including public support for arms control agreements and a global Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In the 1980s and 1990s, that meant building people-power to resist and end US policies stoking war in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Later in the 1990s, that meant being part of a local campaign to build people-power to end policies attacking and harassing homeless people. And in the 21st century, that has included building movements using nonviolent action to urge a comprehensive just peace in Iraq and end the official policy of torture.

Considering Butigan’s reflection, consider these questions: What does love in action look like for you? How are you following Jesus as a peace-maker? May nonviolence begin in our hearts and flow through our whole beings.

References:
[1] Learn more about Campaign Nonviolence at paceebene.org/action-week.

Ken Butigan, “Personal Narrative: The Journey to Nonviolence,” presented at the University of San Diego (October 7, 2017).

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Love Is Our Nature

Peacemakers

Love Is Our Nature
Sunday, September 15, 2019

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart. —St. Francis of Assisi [1]

Much of Christianity seems to have forgotten Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. We’ve relegated visions of a peaceful kingdom to a far distant heaven, hardly believing Jesus could have meant we should turn the other cheek here and now (Matthew 5:39). It took Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), a Hindu, to help us apply Jesus’ peace-making in very practical ways. As Gandhi said, “It is a first-class human tragedy that peoples of the earth who claim to believe in the message of Jesus whom they describe as the Prince of Peace show little of that belief in actual practice.” [2] It took Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), drawing from Gandhi’s work, to bring nonviolence to the forefront of American consciousness in the 1960s.

Nonviolence training has understandably emphasized largely external methods or ways of acting and resisting. These are important and necessary, but we must go even deeper. Unless those methods finally reflect inner attitudes, they will not make a lasting difference. We all have to admit that our secret thoughts are often cruel, attacking, judgmental, and harsh. The ego seems to find its energy precisely by having something to oppose, fix, or change. When the mind can judge something to be inferior, we feel superior. We must recognize our constant tendency toward negating reality, resisting it, opposing it, and attacking it in our minds. This is the universal addiction.

Authentic spirituality is always first about you—about allowing your own heart and mind to be changed. It’s about getting your own who right. Who is it that is doing the perceiving? Is it your illusory, separate, false self; or is it your True Self, who you are in God?

Thomas Keating (1923–2018) wrote:

We’re all like localized vibrations of the infinite goodness of God’s presence. So love is our very nature. Love is our first, middle, and last name. Love is all; not [love as] sentimentality, but love that is self-forgetful and free of self-interest.

This is also marvelously exemplified in Gandhi’s life and work. He never tried to win anything. He just tried to show love; and that’s what ahimsa really means. It’s not just a negative. Nonviolence doesn’t capture its meaning. It means to show love tirelessly, no matter what happens. That’s the meaning of turning the other cheek. Once in a while you have to defend somebody, but it means you’re always willing to suffer first for the cause—that is to say, for communion with your enemies. If you overcome your enemies, you’ve failed. If you make your enemies your partners, God has succeeded. [3]

References:
[1] “The Legend of the Three Companions,” chapter 14 (my paraphrase). See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (New City Press: 2000), 102.

[2] Mahatma Gandhi, “Weekly Letter,” Harijan, vol. 6, no. 19 (June 18, 1938), 153. See Mahatma Gandhi, Truth is God, ed. R. K. Prabhu (Navajivan Publishing House: 1955), 145.

[3] Thomas Keating, Healing Our Violence through the Journey of Centering Prayer, disc 5 (Franciscan Media: 2002), CD.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 125-126.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Shadow Work: Weekly Summary

Shadow Work

Summary: Sunday, September 8—Friday, September 13, 2019

Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. (Sunday)

Carl Jung 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. (Monday)

Generally, the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising a family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life. —Robert A. Johnson (Tuesday)

Any repair of our fractured world must start with individuals who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow. —Robert A. Johnson (Wednesday)

God and religion, I am afraid, have been used to justify most of our violence and to hide from the shadow parts of ourselves that we would rather not admit. (Thursday)

Spiritual maturity is to become aware that we are not the persona (mask) we have been presenting to others. We must become intentional about recognizing and embracing our shadows. Religion’s word for this is quite simply forgiveness. (Friday)

 

Practice: Pay Attention

The term shadow refers to everything within us that we don’t know about ourselves. It’s often called our disowned self. Jesus called it “the log in your own eye,” which you instead notice as the “splinter in your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). His advice is absolutely perfect: “Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye” (7:5).

Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness. People who learn to expose, name, and still thrive inside the contradictions are prophets.

Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933–1984), who was significantly influenced by the Holocaust, saw the essence of the problem clearly:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority. [1]

Working to become aware of our shadow so that we can live in greater alignment with our True Self—which is Love—is rewarding yet challenging work. There are many perspectives on how to best accomplish it. One step that is practiced in virtually all approaches involves increasing awareness by introspective, contemplative practice. Here is one very important shadow work practice as taught by leadership coach Scott Jeffrey:

Shining the light of consciousness on the shadow takes effort and continual practice. The more you pay attention to your behavior and emotions, the better chances you have of catching your shadow in the act. We tend to project our disowned parts onto other people.

One of the best ways to identify your shadow is to pay attention to your emotional reactions toward other people. Sure, your colleagues might be aggressive, arrogant, inconsiderate, or impatient, but if you don’t have those same qualities within you, you won’t have a strong reaction to their behavior.

If you’re paying close attention, you can train yourself to notice your shadow when you witness strong negative emotional responses to others. But we rarely have time to work with those emotions on the spot. At the end of the day, it’s helpful to take five or ten minutes to reflect on your interactions with others and your related reactions.

Whatever bothers you in another is likely a disowned part within yourself. Get to know that part, accept it, make it a part of you, and next time, it may not evoke a strong emotional charge when you observe it in another. [2]

References:
[1] Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (Harper Torchbooks: 1975, ©1974), 6.

[2] Scott Jeffrey, “A Complete Guide to Working With Your Shadow,” https://scottjeffrey.com/wp-content/uploads/Shadow-Work-Guide.pdf.

For Further Study:
Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1995)

Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991)

C. G. Jung,Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (Vintage Books: 1989)

C. G. Jung, On Christianity, ed. Murray Stein (Princeton University Press: 1999)

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003)

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019)

Image credit: Girl Before a Mirror (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. —Richard Rohr

Facing Reality

Shadow Work

Facing Reality
Friday, September 13, 2019

To love is to be conscious, and to be fully conscious would mean we are capable of loving. Sin always proceeds from lack of consciousness. Most people are just not aware and not fully living in their own present moment. When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34), he was absolutely right. Most people are on cruise control, and most of their reactions are habituated responses—not fully conscious choices.

We may have moments when we are conscious of our real motivations and actual goals, but it takes years of practice, honesty, and humility to be consistently awake. Whenever we do not love, we are at that moment unconscious. If we consistently choose to defend our imagined state of separateness, then, spiritually speaking, we are unconscious, or in religious language “in sin.” As has often been said, unless we make the unconscious conscious, it will direct our life and we will think of it as fate.

Spiritual maturity is to become aware that we are not the persona (mask) we have been presenting to others. That is why saints are humble and scoundrels are arrogant. We must become intentional about recognizing and embracing our shadows. Religion’s word for this is quite simply forgiveness, which is pivotal and central on the path of transformation.

This can be painful as we realize that even when we thought we were loving, we often really weren’t. And when we thought we were bad and sinful, we often weren’t that either! Facing reality is also liberating because we recognize that our manufactured self-image is nothing substantial or lasting; it is just created out of our own mind, desire, and choice—and everyone else’s opinions of us! The movement to second-half-of-life wisdom requires serious shadow work and the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking—but without condemning or shaming that same self. That is the truly “narrow gate and hard road that few follow upon” (Matthew 7:14).

There is no shortage of opportunities to discover your personal or corporate shadow. As Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” [1] In the end, the face we turn toward ourself is the face we will turn toward the outer world.

References:
[1] C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (Vintage Books: 1989), 247.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, unpublished “Rhine” talks (2015); and

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 129-130.

Image credit: Girl Before a Mirror (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. —Richard Rohr

Doing the Inner Work

Shadow Work

Doing the Inner Work
Thursday, September 12, 2019

People often asked Dr. Jung, “Will we make it?” referring to the cataclysm of our time. He always replied, “If enough people will do their inner work.” This soul work is the one thing that will pull us through any emergency. —Robert Johnson [1]

Historian René Girard (1923–2015) demonstrated that the scapegoat mechanism is probably the foundational principle for the formation of most social groups and cultures. [2] We seldom consciously know that we are scapegoating or projecting. As Jesus said, people literally “do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In fact, the effectiveness of this mechanism depends on not seeing it! It’s automatic, ingrained, and unconscious. “She made me do it.” “He is guilty.” “He deserves it.” “They are the problem.” “They are evil.” Humans should recognize their own negativity and sinfulness, but instead we largely hate or blame almost anything else.

Unless scapegoating can be consciously seen and named through concrete rituals, owned mistakes, or “repentance,” the pattern will usually remain unconscious and unchallenged. It took until the twentieth century for modern psychology to recognize how humans almost always project their unconscious shadow material onto other people and groups, but Jesus revealed the pattern two thousand years ago. “When anyone kills you, they will think they are doing a holy duty for God,” he said (John 16:2). We hate our own faults in other people, and sadly we often find the best cover for that projection in religion. God and religion, I am afraid, have been used to justify most of our violence and to hide from the shadow parts of ourselves that we would rather not admit.

Yet Scripture rightly calls such ignorant hatred and killing “sin,” and Jesus came precisely to “take away” (John 1:29) our capacity to commit it—by exposing the lie for all to see. Like talking with a good spiritual director or counselor, gazing at the Crucified One helps us see the lie in all its tragedy.

Remember, Jesus stood as the innocent one who was condemned by the highest authorities of both “church and state” (Rome and Jerusalem). This should make us suspicious of power. But those in power do not want us to see this, and that’s why religion has concentrated so much on the private sins of the flesh. More often we admire and accept public sins in our public figures: pride, ambition, greed, gluttony, false witness, sanctioned killing, vanity, et cetera.

As John puts it, “He will show the world how wrong it was about sin, about who was really in the right, and about true judgment” (16:8). This is what Jesus exposed and defeated on the cross. He did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie.

References:
[1] Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991), 112-113.

[2] I highly recommend Gil Bailie’s book Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1995) which explains Girard’s teachings in a helpful and hopeful way.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019), 150-151.

Image credit: Girl Before a Mirror (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. —Richard Rohr

Nodding to the Shadow

Shadow Work

Nodding to the Shadow
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I want to emphasize that the shadow is not inherently evil or wrong; it varies from culture to culture. In the United States today, white dominant culture prizes competition, urgency, individualism, niceness (or avoidance of conflict), and logic. Other values and ways of being, such as cooperation, appropriate self-care, community, and vulnerability, are often seen as inferior. We cause so much harm and lose so much possibility by fearing our differences. By reclaiming our shadow we can tap into greater compassion and creativity.

Jungian psychotherapist Robert Johnson continues explaining how the shadow functions and how we might work with it:

It is useful to think of the personality as a teeter-totter or see-saw. Our acculturation consists of sorting out our God-given characteristics and putting the acceptable ones on the right [visible] side of the seesaw and the ones that do not conform on the left [shadow side]. It’s an inexorable law that no characteristic can be discarded; it can only be moved to a different point on the seesaw. . . .

Johnson suggests that we should hide the culturally unacceptable parts from society, but not from ourselves. I agree that we must nod to our own shadow, name it for what it is, and give it the recognition it needs so that it won’t unconsciously control us. Likewise, it may not always serve us to keep parts of our shadow—whether seemingly “golden” (has a gift for you) or “dark”—hidden from the public.

Johnson continues:

The fulcrum, or center point, is the whole (holy) place. . . .

This is one of Jung’s greatest insights: that the ego and the shadow come from the same source and exactly balance each other. To make light is to make shadow; one cannot exist without the other.

To own one’s own shadow is to reach a holy place—an inner center—not attainable in any other way. To fail this is to fail one’s own sainthood and to miss the purpose of life. . . .

To refuse the dark side of one’s nature is to store up or accumulate the darkness; this is later expressed as [depression], psychosomatic illness, or unconsciously inspired accidents. We are presently dealing with the accumulation of a whole society that has worshiped its light side and refused the dark, [1] and this residue appears as war, economic chaos, strikes, racial intolerance [more timely examples: gun violence, imprisoning refugees, and climate change]. . . . We must be whole whether we like it or not; the only choice is whether we will incorporate the shadow consciously and with some dignity or do it through some neurotic behavior. . . .

Any repair of our fractured world must start with individuals who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow. . . . The tendency to see one’s shadow “out there” in one’s neighbor or in another race or culture is the most dangerous aspect of the modern psyche. . . . We all decry war but collectively we move toward it. It is not the monsters of the world who make such chaos but the collective shadow to which every one of us has contributed. [Consider our complicity in centuries of colonialism, capitalism, and nationalism.] . . .

God grant that evolution may proceed quickly enough for each of us to pick up our own dark side, combine it with our hard-earned light, and make something better of it all than the opposition of the two. This would be true holiness. [And, I would add, it can only be done through contemplation.]

References:
[1] Johnson notes: “Our language has lost the ability to speak of the latter in very noble terms. Our philosophy is unbalanced by the very language we use. How do we speak of dark and give it the same dignity and value as light?” At least we are becoming aware of that very problem.

Adapted from Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991), 10-11, 14, 15, 17, 26-27, 30-31.

Image credit: Girl Before a Mirror (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. —Richard Rohr

Making Holy

Shadow Work

Making Holy
Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The shadow in and of itself is not the problem. The source of our disease and violence is separation from parts of ourselves, from each other, and from God. Mature religion is meant to re-ligio or re-ligament what our egos and survival instincts have put asunder, namely a fundamental wholeness at the heart of everything.

Robert A. Johnson (1921–2018) was an American Jungian analyst, author, and lecturer who studied at the C. G. Jung Institute. Many of Johnson’s insights have shaped my own work. In his book Owning Your Own Shadow, he explains how the shadow begins and how we grow:

We are all born whole and, let us hope, will die whole. But somewhere early on our way, we eat one of the wonderful fruits of the tree of knowledge, things separate into good and evil, and we begin the shadow-making process: we divide our lives. In the cultural process we sort out our God-given characteristics into those that are acceptable to society and those that have to be put away. This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality. When they have been hidden long enough, they take on a life of their own—the shadow life.

The shadow is that which has not entered adequately into consciousness. It is the despised quarter of our being. It often has an energy potential nearly as great as that of our ego. If it accumulates more energy than our ego, it erupts as an overpowering rage or some indiscretion or an accident that seems to have its own purpose. . . .

It is also astonishing to find that some very good characteristics turn up in the shadow. Generally, the ordinary, mundane characteristics are the norm. Anything less than this goes into the shadow. But anything better also goes into the shadow! Some of the pure gold of our personality is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in that great leveling process that is culture.

Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously. . . . The gold is related to our higher calling, and this can be hard to accept at certain stages of life. . . .

Wherever we start and whatever culture we spring from, [most of us] will arrive at adulthood with a clearly defined ego and shadow, a system of right and wrong, a teeter-totter with two sides. The religious process consists of restoring the wholeness of the personality. . . .

Generally, the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising a family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life. One might complain that this is a senseless round trip except that the wholeness at the end is conscious while it was unconscious and childlike at the beginning.

Reference:
Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991), 4-5, 7-9, 10.

Image credit: Girl Before a Mirror (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. —Richard Rohr

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