Our Dark Shadows
by Noel E. Bordador
Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali- to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
"Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles-
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned."
From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
- Matthew 4: 13-17
There is a saying in Zen Buddhism: “A true spiritual friend is someone who insults you.” I have such a friend. Brother Clark is someone I know who will tell me not only what I like to hear, but also what I would not rather hear about myself. While I appreciate whatever good things he could say about me, what is more important for my spiritual growth is that he is not shy or afraid to confront me about my attitudes, behaviors or habits that erodes my integrity, things that I do that seem to go counter against my deeply held principles, or against my calling as a Christian or a priest. He keeps me real; he keeps me honest. He exposes my demons and the dark shadows of my soul.
The human person is an immense, deep abyss. So says Blessed Augustine. This immense and vast abyss contains things of which we have either no or faint knowledge. Some psychologists say that all people have in their soul or psyche golden shadows. These are hidden positive qualities, virtues, gifts or talents lying beneath our unconscious that are waiting to be unearthed. Then, there are also dark shadows, and I suppose, these dark shadows are, metaphorically speaking, our demons which we struggle with. Blessed Augustine once wrote in his Confessions: “Let truth, light of my heart, and not the shadows within me speak to me!” What he meant by these shadows probably refer to that those things in us that hurt and sabotages ourselves and our lives, things that are destructive to our relationship with God, with others, and with the life of our community. Some psychologists says shadow takes the form of laziness, greed, envy, jealousy, the desire for prestige, aggressions, and similar "tormenting spirits". Shadows could be those that make us hurt, abuse, or betray our love ones. Shadows could be those things that give rise to our drug or sexual addictions. We all have dark shadows, including so called spiritual and religious people, and dark shadows often mask themselves as golden shadows, and it is for this reason that spiritual types could justify evil in the name of God. Some of us are good in taming our dark shadows, keeping them at bay so that they do less harm; some of us are powerless over them. But often times, we are ignorant or in denial about them, and sometimes we have glimpse of our dark shadows, and we find them unsettling, and unlovely. And so, we disown these parts of ourselves, and banish them to the regions of our unconscious, trying to keep a tight lid on them. But in our attempts to deny the existence of our own demons, we end up projecting them to others. In turn, we end up making enemies of others, often demonizing them. Racism, destructive nationalism, war, or homophobia are some manifestations of our collective shadow projections.
“The people who sat in darkness has seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned,” says our Gospel today. While we ran away from our dark shadows, Jesus enters the region of the shadows, into the Land of Napthali and Zebulun within us. While we ran away from our shadows, while we ran away from our demons, Jesus exposes the shadows and our demons to light. In our relationship with Jesus, our demons are made known to us. Before God, we become aware of our dark shadows, of the pain, and suffering we inflicted on our own body and soul, and against those we have hurt, including God. When we encounter God in Jesus, God leads us to see the places of hurts in our own souls from which we act to our own wounding and the wounding of those around us. So to grow spiritually could be difficult because it unlocks our consciousness into the dimension of our souls that we do not want to look at. An encounter with God almost always involves painful self-knowledge and analysis. But for the healing of these shadows to occur, we must give light to them by acknowledging them and accept them as part of who we are- difficult this might be. The psychologist, Carl Jung, used to say that if we can shed light on our darkness, it will remove some larger darkness in the world. This self-knowledge then becomes a prerequisite for the possibility of conversion in our lives, conversion that the Gospel calls repentance, the turning of one’s mind and heart, and soul to God. But self-knowledge, in and of itself, cannot produce this conversion. Something else must happen.
Those who are courageous enough to take the plunge into the deep wilderness and desert of our souls, there we will encounter not only the demons that assault us, but we discover none other than God Himself who inhabits the center of the soul. In the center of the human being dwells God the Truth so says Blessed Augustine. Teresa of Avila speaks of the soul as a castle with many rooms and both within and outside the castle are creepy things and demons, but at the interior of the Castle is God. There in their souls they can encounter a union with God so intimate in which God purifies the human person. This is at the heart of the Twelve Step Spirituality which claims that people who battle addictions seem to be able to get a grip on their enslavement to their shadows only when grounded in a higher Power, God. The contemporary Trappist monk, Thomas Keating, says that as we open ourselves to this experience of profound love and mercy of from God in our prayer life, opening ourselves up to redemption that we are begin to be freed from the compulsion to act from places of hurt and woundedness. Shadows remain but we need not give them expression. With this experience a profound sense of spiritual freedom, our capacity for compassion, our capacity for service is increased, less alloyed by our inner demons that get in our way of serving God. We become freely and immediately disposed to God, in as much as the disciples in the Gospel story today were free and unencumbered in their response to Jesus’ invitation to follow him.
May truth, light of our hearts, and not the shadows within speak to us.
©2021 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Episcopal priest in the Philippines. He runs Nazareth House, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality for persons with HIV/AIDS in Manila.
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