Seeing the Shadow(s)

Me and Dawn were discussing Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow. I should hurry to say that this is not a regular topic between us. As a general rule, I’m very quiet about psychological theory at home. I don’t want to threaten my home with my scattered ramblings, especially when it comes to Jung, someone who I’m slowly learning from, whose analytical psychology is in the deep as far as I’m concerned. Plus, it’s not exactly fun to see.

Nonetheless, the topic came up. Dawn asked me about something from my day and I told her a story. The story–and I am modifying a bit–was about a person that I met that day. Now, I’ve met this person before. That day the person came to me in the form of a woman. So I’ll say that I met this woman, and every time she has shown up in the past, I react. She usually comes as a prideful person, as a person who is really good at being self-congratulatory, and to some degree, dismissive of others. When I see her coming, I sense my own nerves shuffling.

Me and Dawn were talking about this and I said that I don’t like this person. I never have. When I first met her in my first ministry role and when I’ve seen her a few times every year, coming and going into my life. As I get along though, I’m learning that this person has something to teach me, something to show me. I’ve said this to friends as well. That person is going to keep finding me–in the church, in some class, in a group I’m supervising, or in a relationship I’m in–because she has something to show me. Jung suggests that she has something to show me about me.

Jung would say that this person is really offering me a view into my unconscious. Now, without giving an adequate class in Jung (something I’m not qualified to do anyhow), the unconscious in Jungian theory is a barely discernible reservoir of materials that aren’t in your immediate consciousness. You aren’t aware of the unconscious (the collective unconscious), but it’s there. It’s instructing and moving you in ways that you don’t realize because it is, by definition, out of your awareness. Its role is to balance what’s happening in your awareness.

The unconscious comes to you and usually in unbidden ways: dreams and images and things you say that you didn’t know you’re thinking until you say them. These are the bridges over which the unconscious travels to get to us. Another bridge is through people, particularly the people who grate us, provoke us in ways we don’t usually move, take us out of character, if you will. Those folks are carrying some message about us to us. The more we meet them, the more we meet (something about) ourselves.

The self-reflective piece is the endeavor to listen well, to attend to them and to the self. You pay attention and you learn more. You keep meeting that person, that shadow side of the self, and you’ll find out something that’s worth knowing. Jung says that what we meet is not only about us. The unconscious is the property of all time and all creation, if you will. What comes from the unconscious comes from earlier generations of humanity.

Jung wouldn’t say that they come from God, but having been the son of a preacher, he probably would approximate such things in his medical way. He was a doctor who was chiefly influenced by the Spirit, albeit a psychological interpretation of the Spirit as a subjective experience in itself if I get him. That said, Jung thought that our gifts from the unconscious weren’t only for personal consumption but common good.

That means that our learning and your self-reflection aren’t only for you. It benefits me and us and others. So your seeing the shadow and being curious about it; my seeing myself and being interested in what’s really here; these are ways that we can ultimately be good to and for each other. The more we know about ourselves, the better and more whole we can be in relationship.

It Was Fear That I Saw

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

I’ve seen the look in too many people’s eyes. And I don’t say that as a pin of honor or badge on my lapel. It was a dreadful thing when I first started seeing fear so regularly. There’s nothing like the naked, bold, and startling fear in the eyes of a person who watched the slow-coming death of someone they love. Love makes us hold tightly. Love, often, is the enemy of surrender. And I thought about it when a woman asked me, in a way, about my own loves.

When I first started in ministry at Sweet Holy Spirit, my role was primarily administrative. Aside from some relatively small amount of pastoral care, I functioned the way an executive pastor functions, looking at costs, praying about meeting budget, managing operations, getting to know a staff, decreasing that staff, trying to compensate the staff based upon the unique and faithful expressions of ministry’s vocations. I brought an attorney on retainer, developed relationships with insurance agents, learned about wage demands from the IRS, and became a master at explaining differences between exempt and non-exempt employees.

Being an executive pastor who was in the seat when the pastor was away was more responsibility than I was ready for. It aged me. It still does in a way. And I remember seeing fear in those days. But it was a different fear. It was a fear of missing marks that were mostly set in the wide generous room of a large church. I had my own fears. But in terms of the real fears of others, I was hardly exposed to much. I was the person who kept at the overarching system so that the good folks in our church could come and hear the words spoken. But I hardly had enough time with those folks, those listeners. They would have taught me differently about different fear.

When I came to New Community, I came, in part, because it was twenty times smaller than my home church by my conservative estimate. I would be able to pastor in a classical way, and that vision is one that I’ve been able to live. I’ve been in homes, around tables, having conversations and not just at the office or even in my study at home. I’ve been able to search the lives of others at their leadership and invitation. I’ve seen more fears in the eyes of our people.

And still, my church is “relatively young” church. I find myself over the years putting up three or four fingers when I tell people how many times I’ve visited hospitals for the people of New Community. It’s relatively young, I tell them. People don’t ask the pastor to come to the hospital when a baby is born, and twenty and thirty-somethings don’t generally get hospitalized and require pastoral visitation. Where I preached twelve funerals a year (as part of a staff of ministers) at SHS, I’ve done almost as many weddings during some of my ten years at New Community.  Fear looks differently in those congregational contexts.

When I started working as a chaplain, I started seeing fear differently. In the medical center, I saw it all the time. I see it all the time. I can see it daily if I choose. Unfortunately, there is always somebody (perhaps a somebody in 900+ beds) negotiating with fear.

The good thing about being a chaplain who is also in the supervisory education process is that you’re always doing action, reflection, action. Always working in that CPE model of learning. In fact, you have to stop yourself from doing it. At home, in the congregation, in conversation with people who know nothing about this model of learning. Stop being shaped the education and be. Still, it relates to how you see yourself.

You become a process person, loosening your grip on content and becoming more interested in what’s happening, what’s taking place, what process we’re in, rather than the superficial and low-hanging surface of what’s merely explicit. Process is hardly ever explicit. And fear is the same. You have to see it even though it’s facing you.

That’s why relationships falter because it takes a therapist or a spiritual director or a guide who’s outside the dyad to say, “Hey, what’s happening here?” or “This is what I’m seeing.” or “If you keep in this direction, where are you headed?” These aren’t content statements but process ones.

You begin to see your own fears. You make friends with some of them. You give grace to them, gifting them with new understanding because the words behind and under those fears are understandable. They are real just like the fear.