Shadow Work in the Gospels — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Shadow Work in the Gospels

Carl Jung

Shadow Work in the Gospels
Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Father Richard describes Jung’s concept of the shadow and how it is present in Jesus’ teachings.

The ego wants to eliminate all humiliating or negative information in order to “look good” at all costs. Jesus calls this self an “actor,” a word he uses fifteen times in Matthew’s Gospel, though it is usually translated from the Greek as “hypocrite.” The ego wants to keep us tied to easy and acceptable levels of knowledge. It does not want us going down into the “personal unconscious” or, in Jung’s term, our “shadow self.” The shadow includes all those things about ourselves that we don’t want to see, are not yet ready to see, and don’t want others to see. We try to hide or deny this shadow, most especially from ourselves.

Jung asks: “How can I be substantial if I fail to cast a shadow?” [1] He makes clear that the unconscious is not bad or evil; it is just hidden from us. Jung describes shadow also as “the source of the highest good: not only dark, but also light; not only bestial, semi-human and demonic, but superhuman, spiritual” [2] and, in Jung’s word, “divine.” That is why we dare not avoid the deep self. Wild beasts and angels reside in the same wilderness, and it takes the Spirit to “drive” us there (see Mark 1:12–13).

The more we are attached to any persona, bad or good, any chosen and preferred self-image, the more shadow self we will have. We absolutely need conflicts, moral failures, defeats to our grandiosity, even seeming enemies. These are necessary mirrors, or we will have no way to ever spot our shadow self. Even if we only catch a glimpse of such shadows, that may offer graced insight and a moment of inner freedom.

Jesus seems to precede Jung and modern depth psychology by two thousand years when he says, “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How dare you say to your sister or brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye’ when all the time there is a log in your own? Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother or sister’s eye” (Matthew 7:4–5).

Note that Jesus does not just praise good moral behavior and criticize immoral behavior, as a lesser teacher might. Instead, he talks about something caught in the eye. He knows that if we see rightly, our actions and behaviors will eventually take care of themselves. God wastes nothing and includes everything. The God of the Bible is best known for transmuting and transforming our shadow selves into our own more perfect good. God brings us—often through failure—from unconsciousness to ever-deeper consciousness and conscience. I doubt if there is any other way. All the rest is mere self-validation.

[1] C. G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Harcourt, Brace and Company: 1933), 40.

[2] C. G. Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy: Essays on the Psychology of the Transference, and Other Subjects, trans. by R. F. C. Hull, 2nd ed. (Princeton University Press: 1976), 192.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2008), 75–76; and

Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2001, 2021), 31–33.

Story from Our Community:
Carl Jung’s beliefs always resonate with me, even his yogic path. As a Westerner with reverence of Eastern philosophy, thank you for these meditations that lift my spirits, help me learn more (the more I learn the more I realize how little I know), and heal my heart a bit more each day. —Stephanie A.

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Image credit: Rose B. Simpson, Holding it Together (detail), 2016, sculpture.
We featured the artist of these sculptures, Rose B. Simpson, at our recent CONSPIRE conference—so many of us were impacted by her creations that we decided to share her work with our Daily Meditations community for the month of November.
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