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God Sees in Wholes, We See in Parts

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

Embracing the Shadow

God Sees in Wholes, We See in Parts
Sunday, July 10, 2016

Both therapy and spirituality have an important place in a full life. Much therapy today is a needed way of dealing with our psychological problems. But eventually we must move from exclusively trying to solve our problems to knowing that we can never fully resolve them, but only learn from them. Sometimes, we can only forgive our imperfections and neuroses, embrace them, and even “weep” over them (which is not to hate them!). This is very humbling for the contemporary Promethean individual. As Carl Jung writes, “the greatest and most important problems in life are all in a certain sense insoluble. They must be so because they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.” [1]

Only an in-depth spirituality can fully accept the paradox of our flawed humanity, indwelled by God’s presence, where both light and dark are allowed and used by God. This is not a capitulation to our shadow self, but an integration that brings forth what Merton called “a hidden wholeness.” [2] We grow through necessary conflicts and tensions. I don’t think there is any other way. Dancing along a self-created primrose path will merely lead you to illusion and superficiality.

The movement from the purely psychological model to the full spiritual self will initially feel like a loss of power. And indeed it is for the ego! But for the True Self, it is actually the rediscovery of an authentic and original power, where human clay meets divine breath (Genesis 2:7). To succeed in the first half of life we usually have to deny our shadow and unacceptable self. This allows us to look good, but not really be good. The burden of the second half of life is often the reclaiming of what we have denied, feared, and rejected in the first half. I know it feels like backtracking, and in some ways it is. But remember, your shadow self is not your evil self, it is simply your denied and rejected self.

All sin is merely disordered love, which is searching for a pure and true love. God is very patient with us while we learn how to really love. As we integrate and forgive our shadow self, life gradually looks very different. Life becomes many shades of pastel instead of just several primary colors. We finally see what we have never dared look at before. This is the birth of compassion. The journey toward Biblical faith will often feel like losing our vision (note Paul’s conversion in Acts 9) and being given by grace a whole new pair of eyes.

The steps to maturity are necessarily immature, and we must learn from each one of these missteps, and never hate or dismiss them. Julian of Norwich says it so well: “God judges us according to our true essence, which [God] keeps whole and safe, inside [Godself] always. Divine judgment reflects our Beloved’s righteousness. But human judgment reflects our changeable fleshliness. . . . I could not find blame and anger anywhere in God!” [3] How different the entire history of Christianity would have been if we had trusted that infinite love can only be accepted in finite steps.

Gateway to Silence:
Help me see as You see.

[1] Commentary by Carl Jung, translation by Richard Wilhelm, The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life (Mariner Books: 1962), 92.
[2] Thomas Merton, “Hagia Sophia,” edited by Thomas P. McDonnell, A Thomas Merton Reader (Image/Doubleday: 1974, 1989), 506.
[3] Julian of Norwich, translation by Mirabai Starr, The Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation (Hampton Roads: 2013), 111-112. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003), 161-164.

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