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Center for Action and Contemplation
Shadow Work
Shadow Work

The Shadow Is a Necessary Teacher 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Father Richard views shadow work as essential for our transformation:  

Shadowlands are good and necessary teachers. They are not to be avoided, denied, fled, or explained away. They are not even to be forgiven too quickly. First, like Ezekiel the prophet, we must eat the scroll that is “lamentation, wailing, and moaning” in our belly, and only eventually sweet as honey (Ezekiel 2:9–3:3).  

There’s a shadowland where we are led by our own selfishness, stupidity, sinfulness, and by living out of the false self. We have to work our way back out of this with brutal honesty, confessions, surrenders, forgiveness, and often by some necessary restitution or apology. By any account, it is major “inner surgery” and feels like dying—although it also feels like immense liberation. We need help at these times.  

There’s another shadowland, however, into which we’re led by God and grace, and the nature of the journey itself. Many saints have called it “the dark night.” The difference is that we still sense that we have been led here intentionally, somehow. We know we are in liminal space, betwixt and between, on the threshold—and we have to stay here until we have learned something essential. It is still no fun—filled with doubt and “demons” of every sort—but it is the dark night of God. All transformation takes place in such liminal space. [1] 

Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama wrote this prayer for those dwelling in the shadowlands:  

God of darkness 

You must be the god of darkness 

because if you are not, whom else can we turn to?  

Turn to us now.  

Turn to us. 

Turn your face to us.  

Because it is dark here.  

And we are in need. We are people in need.  

We can barely remember our own truth, and if you too have 


then we are without a hope of a map.  

Turn to us now.  

Turn to us.  

Turn your face to us.  

Because you turned toward us in the body of incarnation.  

You turned toward us.  

Amen. [2] 


[1] Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2001, 2020), 185–186. 

[2] Collect from In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World, copyright © 2015 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Published in the US and Canada by Broadleaf Books and worldwide by Hodder and Stoughton. Used by permission. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—CAC Staff, Untitled. Izzy Spitz, Untitled. CAC Staff, Untitled. Watercolor. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Even if my shadow is out of my sight, it still will make itself known. 

Story from Our Community:  

Father Rohr’s teachings about how Christians can deal with the “Shadow” self and “True” self is refreshing. When I was a child, I wanted to be “perfect,” so I hid my imperfections from the world — and from myself. Fr. Rohr helped me to discover that God dwells in the darkness too. I needed permission to explore my shadow self from a spiritual perspective. Now I am working on a deeper understanding of the fullness of how I am made. By learning to love all of me, as one creation with two natures, simultaneously graced by the Divine and Human experience, I am able to bring more of myself to every situation. Now I am living my calling with more power. Thank you. —Lonn D.  

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