Doing the Inner Work — Center for Action and Contemplation

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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

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.

[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
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