In their introduction to the spiritual practice of Shadow, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat mention that this particular practice “balances/counters” Pollyannaism. I was immediately reminded of the difficulties Unitarian Universalist congregations (and the association as a whole) faced in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. How does a religion that emphasizes the essential goodness of humanity deal with atrocities that appear to come from the shadows? One way, of course, would be to acknowledge (if not embrace) the shadow side of our own psyches, a tough task for a faith tradition that has “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door” as the first hymn in its hymnal. The Brussats say that “The spiritual practice of shadow encourages us to make peace with those parts of ourselves that we find to be despicable, unworthy, and embarrassing—our anger, jealousy, pride, selfishness, violence, and other ‘evil deeds.’” We don’t necessary leave a lot of room for that kind of peacemaking in our congregations. Perhaps this small group ministry session based on resources from SpiritualityandPractice.com could serve as a starting point.
The very things we wish to avoid, reject, and flee from turn out to be the “prima materia” from which all real growth comes.
— Andrew Harvey in Dialogues with a Modern Mystic
A Teaching Story from The Force of Character and the Lasting Life by James Hillman
James Hillman can always be counted on to come up with a fresh image to make his points. Here he encourages us to deal with the shadow parts of ourselves.
I like to imagine a person’s psyche to be like a boardinghouse full of characters. The ones who show up regularly and who habitually follow the house rules may not have met other long-term residents who stay behind closed doors, or who only appear at night. An adequate theory of character must make room for character actors, for the stuntmen and animal handlers, for all the figures who play bit parts and produce unexpected acts. They often make the show fateful, or tragic, or farcically absurd.
Questions: Who are some of the characters in your psyche’s boardinghouse? Are there any oddball ones you would like to introduce to the regulars?
Check-out/Likes and Wishes
To honor and accept one’s own shadow is a profound spiritual discipline.
— Robert A. Johnson in Owning Your Own Shadow
To Practice This Thought: Whenever you come across people who are always demonizing their enemies, vow to take responsibility for your actions and accept your shadow self.
For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Shadow.
For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.