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Seeing Our Shadow

Friday, March 6, 2015

Jesus: The Jewish Teacher

Seeing Our Shadow
Friday, March 6, 2015

Jesus and the other Jewish prophets were the “seers” who always saw what needed reforming. They helped Israel to see what it could not see before: both its corporate and individual shadows. The shadow is that part of the self that we don’t want to see, that we’re always afraid of and don’t want others to see either. Our tendency is to hide or deny it, even and most especially from ourselves. Jesus, quoting Isaiah, describes it as “hearing but not understanding, seeing, but not perceiving” (Matthew 13:14-15). Addicts today call it “denial.”

One point here is crucial: The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without calling it evil. That is why Jesus criticizes hypocrisy more than anything else (eleven times in Matthew’s Gospel).  Something that is shocking to many religious people is that Jesus is never upset with sinners; he’s only upset with people who think they are not sinners!

Archaic religion and most of the history of religion has seen the shadow as the problem. Isn’t that what religion is about: getting rid of all our faults? This is the classic pattern of dealing with the symptom instead of the cause. We cannot really get rid of the shadow; we can only expose its game—which eventually undermine its results and effects. As it states in Ephesians, “Anything exposed to the light turns into light itself” (5:14). Low level religion almost always attacks the shadow instead of the ego, the symptom instead of the cause. And the narcissistic structure of the self remains totally in control and unexposed. This is the clever, demonic game of smoke and mirrors so we do not have to surrender our actual false selves.

Jesus and the prophets deal with the cause itself, which is the separated, autonomous ego self; and this can take negative or positive forms, which are equally delusional: self-hatred or self-inflation. Frankly, the separated self ping-pongs between these two hiding places, and neither of them can handle the wonderful truth of Divine Identity. Our problem is not our shadow self nearly as much as our over-defended ego, which always projects its own faults onto other people and hates them there, and thus avoids its own conversion. Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye,” which you invariably see as “the splinter in your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5). Jesus’ advice is perfect: “Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” If we do not see our own “plank,” it is rather certain that we will hate and attack the exact same thing in others, even if there is faint evidence for it, like a tiny “splinter.” Greedy people spot other greedy people in a heartbeat. Ambitious people accuse other people of gross careerism. You do know, don’t you, that the people you are most threatened by are invariably just like you? Jesus showed us how to get out of this dead end prison, by acknowledging, “My main problem is always me! Something does need to change, and darn it, it’s me!”

Gateway to Silence:
Teach me Your truth.

Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, pp. 76-77

Image credit: Head of Christ (1648/detail) by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)
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