"All those qualities, capacities and tendencies which do not harmonize with the collective values – everything that shuns the light of public opinion, in fact – now come together to form the shadow, that dark region of the personality which is unknown and unrecognized by the ego." --Carl Jung
"Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” --Carl Jung“This day our days are diminished by one” a line from a Zen gatha reminds us. The time is precious: every moment of it. In particular, our time together grows short. I’ll be officially your minister until July 31, though I’ll be on vacation for the last part of July. I am planning to be in the pulpit for two summer services on July 2 and July 9. Next week is RE Sunday, the week after that is a Juneteenth service being organized by Jeff Tomlinson and Joe Majsak, and the week after that we’ll be streaming the General Assembly service. So this is my last regular-church-year sermon.
As I come to the end of the time I have been honored to occupy your pulpit, I want to return to an idea I shared with you the very first time I preached here. It was April 28, 2013, and I was not then your minister. I was a candidate to become your minister, pending a congregational vote that would happen a week later.
During times of ministerial transition, there are various currents going through the congregation – and when a candidate actually shows up, there’s a current of sentiment, “this one will do.” And then there’s a different current: one of skepticism. This is all normal and natural. During candidating week, the candidate knows that, behind the scenes, out of hearing, these currents are playing out in conversations. The skeptics will be saying, “he seems brusque” – or “she’s a little smarmy” – or, “there seems to a tendency to impulsivity,” – or “I wish they could be more spontaneous.” And the folks in the “this one will do” camp, say, “look, nobody’s perfect.”
As I stepped into the pulpit on that late April day over 10 years ago, I knew those conversations would inevitably already be rippling through the congregation, just based on the advance circulation of my resume. And I knew they would be going on for the next week before the vote – just as I know now that similar conversations will be going on next year as this congregation again considers a candidate for its ministry.
What I wanted to do on that first candidating Sunday 10 years ago, and what I want to do again now, is urge a re-framing of that conversation. Please understand that it isn’t about nobody being perfect. Begin from the understanding that we are all, actually, in fact, perfect. In this institution for grounding and growing our spirits, we need to be coming from that awareness: that we are whole, perfect, and complete just as we are.
Yes, we all have our shadow. And, yes, some care must be taken to discern who to call into any vocation because, no, not everyone is cut out for every calling. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t all perfect. It means that the shadow is part of the perfection. It also means that discernment of calling takes a community – that even though we are perfect, we cannot, by ourselves, hear our own calling. We need others to help us hear what we are most called to, and sometimes that help comes in the form of being turned down for a position that we really wanted.
The work of your search committee for the next year to select a candidate to be the next settled minister to stand here behind this Spirit of Truth is the work of holy discernment. And your task next spring when another candidating week culminates in a congregational vote on whether to call: that is also a task of holy discernment. But I think it matters that you enter that holy discernment with the understanding that everyone is perfect – rather than that no one is.
The shadow side we all have isn’t just some unfortunate flaw that we wish could be fixed without damaging the gift. The shadow IS the gift, or, at least, is the enabling condition that makes the gift possible. What we can’t do is what makes possible what we can do. If there were no shadow, there would be no gift. What we aren't and don't makes possible what we are and do. I wanted us to know that about the ministerial candidate this congregation was considering in 2013, and I want to re-emphasize the point as you prepare to consider a ministerial candidate in 2024.
"Now it came to pass that while the elder in Israel tarried in Babylon, a message came to him from a distant city saying, 'Come thou and counsel with us. Help us to search out a priest for the one that has served us has gone mad.'You get the point. It’s not about, “well, no one’s perfect.” Rather, what it’s about is: no one simultaneously exhibits contradictory qualities. If your gift is the wisdom of experience, it’s not a fault to not have youthful exuberance. If your gift is youthful exuberance, it’s not a fault to not have the wisdom of experience. If your gift is speaking your mind freely, it is not a fault that you occasionally give offense. If your gift is diplomacy, it’s not a fault that you don’t speak your mind freely. If your gift is being tall enough to dunk a basketball, it’s not a fault that your aren’t small enough to be comfortable in the back seat of subcompact car. Not a fault – but we might say it’s the shadow side of your gift. It’s the thing that you aren’t and don’t that makes possible what you are and do.
And the elder in Israel arose and journeyed to that distant city. And when the men of affairs were assembled, the elder spake unto them saying, 'What manner of man seeketh thee to be your new priest?'
And they answered and said unto him, 'We seek a young man yet with the wisdom of gray hairs. One that speaketh his mind freely yet giveth offense to no one. That draweth the multitude to the temple on the Sabbath but will not be displeased when we ourselves are absent. We desire one who has a gay mood yet is of sober mind. That seeketh out dark sayings and prophecies yet speaketh not over our heads. That filleth the temple, buildeth it up, yet defileth not the sanctuary with a Motley assortment of strangers. We seeketh one that puts the instruction of the young first but requireth not that we become teachers. That causeth the treasury to prosper yet asketh not that we give more of our substance. Verily we seek a prophet that will be unto us a leader but will not seek to change us, for we like not to be disturbed.'"
So the shadow is not some unfortunate, if forgivable, shortcoming. The shadow, to repeat, is the necessary enabling condition of the gift.
Now let’s go a little further with that. The shadow is not merely what makes the gift possible, but actually is the gift itself. Our broken-ness is itself the very thing that is our strength. That’s the paradoxical truth: the weakness is the strength.
It was a story of a young man, 24-years-old, whose leg had to be removed at the hip to save him from bone cancer. He was angry and bitter. It seemed so deeply unfair that he had suffered this terrible loss so early in life. Over the course of more than two years, slowly, he began to shift, to look beyond himself, to reach out to others who had suffered severe physical losses, to make visits. On one visit, he was in running shorts, and his artificial leg showed as he entered the hospital room of a young woman who had lost both her breasts to cancer. She was so depressed that she would not even look at him. The nurses had left a radio playing, so, to get her attention, he unstrapped his leg, and began dancing around the room on one leg, snapping his fingers to the music. She looked at him in amazement, and then burst out laughing and said, 'Man, if you can dance, I can sing.'”
That man’s one-leggedness became the way that he was able to shine in this world. The broken-ness is the gift.
“There is a crack, a crack in everything.So is the light getting in, or is it shining out? Both. Through our brokenness, the light of the world can get in, and also, through that same crack, the light from our souls shines out.
That’s how the light gets in.”
There’s a verse in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, that says:
“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,From the shadow: from the dark recesses, from maybe the parts of you that you think of as flaws, that you don’t like about yourself, the parts that are wrong. It may be from or through those very parts that the light comes forth.
a light from the shadows shall spring.”
According the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said,
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.Within you, tucked away in that inner dark, is the shadow of the you that you present to the world. The shadow is a little wild, a little crazy. The shadow doesn’t fit with the goals and purposes you have laid out for yourself.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Maybe you don’t bring it forth in the midst of your work-a-day life. Maybe the professionalism you have carefully cultivated to serve you well is appropriate for large parts of your life. But there needs to be somewhere -- some aspect of your life -- where the shadow can be acknowledged and welcomed as a part of your wholeness – your perfect, complete wholeness. “If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you,” said Jesus.
If it isn’t brought into consciousness, it will operate unconsciously – and the return of the repressed will not be pretty. Writes Jo Farrow:
“If we cannot bear to bring our unacknowledged fears or feeling into the light of consciousness, we shall continue to need ‘enemies’ onto which we can off-load the suppressed self-hate or fear of being overwhelmed which is simmering below the surface of our lives.”The shadow might be the part of you that you learned in childhood to tuck away as you adapted to parental expectations. Or, as with the young man who lost his leg, it might be a limitation suddenly and surprisingly imposed. Either way, it’s something about yourself that you don’t like. It’s the demons you haven’t yet learned to embrace.
Returning to Rachel Naomi Remen, she writes:
“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They're part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to find other people or to even know they're alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of.”We are perfect, just as we are. But we have a hard time believing that we are. Failure weighs on us. We failed – or something failed. Our bodies failed, our relationship failed, our job failed, our brain failed. There was a failure of something in ourselves or in our world to be what we were so sure it should be, was supposed to be. Brokenness, the blessing of our affliction, arrives as failure, arrives as the breaking of our "should."
Somewhere in growing up our lives became as a vase, shellacked with “should” until opaque. And the light within us does not shine out until something breaks us. Some very important “should” fails, and we crack. We break open. And a little more of our perfection hatches. It was always there – we were always perfect – but a bit more of our perfection gets brought forth and shines out.
If I hadn’t been cracked, if I hadn’t failed, if things had gone as I was once so sure they “should,” I might still be teaching philosophy, still living in my head, still assessing everything other people said as either something I agreed with or something I had an argument against, rarely simply present to the beauty and fascination of another person – concerned only with whether they were right, rather than with where they were coming from.
I’d have been perfect then, too, but I wouldn’t have known it – and I wouldn’t have known perfect you and this perfect congregation.
I still don’t entirely believe that I’m perfect, but I try every day to honor the part of me that does know that all of me, and all of you, are perfect, whole, and complete just as you are.
You cannot defeat darkness by running from it, nor can you conquer your inner demons by hiding them from the world. Bring forth what is within you, and be saved and saving. There is always more that is waiting to see the light – waiting to become the light. Go in peace.