Struggling with Shadow
Monday, September 11, 2017
The Hebrew prophets are in a category of their own. Within the canonical, sacred scriptures of other world religions we do not find major texts that are largely critical of that very religion. The Hebrew prophets were free to love their tradition and to profoundly criticize it at the same time, which is a very rare art form. In fact, it is their love of its depths that forces them to criticize their own religion.
One of the most common complaints I hear from some Catholics is, “You criticize the Church too much.” But criticizing the Church is just being faithful to the very clear pattern set by the prophets and Jesus (just read Matthew 23). I would not bother criticizing organized Christianity if I did not also love it. There is a negative criticism that is nothing but complaining and projecting. There is a positive criticism that is all about hope and development.
The dualistic mind presumes that if you criticize something, you don’t love it. Wise people like the prophets would say the opposite. The Hebrew prophets were radical precisely because they were traditionalists. Institutions prefer loyalists and “company men” to prophets. None of us want people who point out our shadow or our dark side. It is no accident that prophets and priests are usually in opposition to one another throughout the Bible (e.g., Amos 5:21-6:7, 7:10-17). Yet Paul says the prophetic gift is the second most important charism for the building up of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11). And note how often the text says it was “the priests, elders, and teachers of the law” who criticized and finally condemned the prophet Jesus. Interestingly, I have never heard of a church called “Jesus the Prophet” in all the world. We do not like prophets too much.
Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness. People who learn to expose, name, and still thrive inside the contradictions are people I would call prophets.
As I reflected after the United States presidential election last fall, it seems we are in need of courageous prophetic teaching at this time. Both parties showed little or no ability to criticize their own duplicitous game of power. I suspect that we get the leaders who mirror what we have become as a nation. They are our shadow self for all to see. That is what the Jewish prophets told Israel both before and during their painful and long Exile (596-538 BC). Yet Exile was the very time when the Jewish people went deep and discovered their prophetic voices—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others—speaking truth to power, calling for justice. There is every indication that the U.S., and much of the world, is in a period of exile now. The mystics would call it a collective “dark night.”
The prophetic message is not directly about partisan politics (which is far too dualistic); it is much more pre-political and post-political—which has huge socio-political implications that challenge all of us on every side. Those who allow themselves to be challenged and changed will be the new cultural creative voices of the next period of history after this purifying exile.
Gateway to Silence:
Do not be afraid.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1994), audio, no longer available;
Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), CD, MP3 download; and
“Rebuilding from the Bottom Up: A Reflection Following the Election,” November 11, 2016, https://cac.org/rebuilding-bottom-reflection-following-election/.