Posted by on Feb 17, 2019


In addition to our reading from the Gospel of Luke, this morning we also pondered a reading from modern wisdom, Why We Must Also Listen to Our Inner Shadows from Parker Palmer and Rick Bommelje.

This Week’s sermon makes reference to Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer as well as a podcast in which Palmer speaks on the concept of the Shadow and Leadership.

Large Text Sermon for Printing and Download

The Shadow and Projections (Part Three of Four)

Mapping the Constellation of the Inner Life & Building a Cosmos of Resilience

Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

Sunday, February 17, 2019 — The Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany

Knox-Metropolitan United Church — Regina, SK — Treaty 4 Territory

Cameron Fraser

I am not only my lights, my strengths, my gifts, my virtues, my ability, I am also my shadow. I am my failures, I am my fears, I am those potholes that I keep falling into. 

I am all of the above.

So, the issue is not how do we get rid of these shadows, these unconscious elements of ourselves, these parts of of ourselves that have power over us but we don’t recognize the parts, we don’t know how to name the which gives them even more power. 

The issue is not getting ride of them, the issue is becoming so self-aware about them that they no longer have the kind of power that they have when they operate unconsciously. (The Shadow and Leadership)

Over the past few weeks, we have opened our reflections with words from Quaker teacher Parker Palmer — Quakers, or Friends as they are often called, are a stream within the Christian Tradition that worships in silence, and are known for seeking to develop a depth of inward awareness that they might more whole-y (w-h-o-l-e-y not h-o-l-y) inhabit their lives and ethics.

They have much to offer the rest of the Christian family.

This is the third part of a series about mapping the internal life with a mind to building greater inner resilience — the first two parts can be found online, and as always we hope that this one part will stand alone.

Previous reflections have pondered the concept of the soul as a source of inner wholeness and the challenges of living divided lives, and today we build on that.

But first some refreshments…

I have two brands of apple juice with me today, and as I pour them into these glasses, I’d like to invite you to notice the difference in clarity between the two.

One as we can see if clear — it has been processed, preserved, and pasteurized.

The other is murky — the bottom of the bottle is covered in sediment.

Now, both are mass-produced so I can’t really say that either is fully pure, had I made it to yesterday’s farmer’s market perhaps I could have gotten a truly natural bottle which would likely have been one step along further along the gradient.

I imagine that if I asked you which you thought would be have higher health benefits, more vitamins and nourishment, that most would agree that this one, the one with the least processing was better in this sense — it certainly is truer to the nature of an apple.

So it is with ourselves — and wholeness, I would suggest is about accepting this and learning what to do with that reality.

Our readings today, perhaps on first glance, seem to suggest something else.

Both the passage from Luke and the Psalms, at face value offer binaries (two things in direct opposition) Blessing and Woe — Righteous and Wicked.

In our reading from the Book of Luke, we hear a version of what are often called the Beatitudes, and if we’re familiar with many Biblical texts perhaps we’ve more often heard this story from the perspective of Matthew’s Gospel.

While we refer to it as the sermon on the Mount, attentive readers/listeners will have noted that in this version these words are set on a plain — and instead of 9 Blessed are they — we have 3 ‘Blessed are you’ and 3 ‘Woe to you’.

This seems to reflect the Psalm which offers two images, the righteous person who is like a tree planted by the water, and chaff that will be blown away by the wind, chaff being the husks of grain or corn that have been separated from the fruit by threshing.

Both of these passages seem to set up a binary — that people are either righteous or wicked, objects of blessing or woe.

There’s problems with this.

One, it is not reflective of human experience — certainly not as Parker Palmer explains it, and I must admit, that within me, my thoughts, my actions, my unseen motivations and responses, is a mix much more akin to the second glass of apple juice than the first.

I don’t want to put anyone else on the spot.

Now, a simply binary is not just at odds with my own lived experience, but also with the broader narrative of the Bible.

The Luke reading mentions repeatedly the Prophets of old — whose ministry certainly laid out black and white standards of economic and societal justice, but also offered a more complex and nuanced understanding of the human person.

Jesus’ own spirituality follows in this.

A short number of chapters earlier, Jesus goes into the dessert to be tempted, by the text names ‘the devil’ and not to get into too much today, the concept of a being who is an external embodiment of evil is one developed much later than these texts are written. Now we read it back onto the text, but really, these dessert temptations are much more akin to wrestling with internal conflict than external.

In this way, despite a surface and simplistic reading seems to contradict it, or third reading, from Modern wisdom, the parable (if you will) of two wolves, actually bridges the gap between an Ancient understanding and our modern readings.

It helps us to see that the tree and the chaff of the Psalm and the Blessing and Woe of the Gospel, actually both live within us.

Again Parker Palmer brings this home:

…[any spiritual journey]…will take us inward and downward, toward the hardest realities of our lives, rather than outward and upward toward abstraction, idealization, and exhortation. The spiritual journey runs counter to the power of positive thinking.

Why must we go in and down? Because as we do so, we will meet the darkness that we carry within ourselves—the ultimate source of the shadows that we project onto other people. If we do not understand that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone “out there” into the enemy… (Let Your Life Speak)

What do find when follow this path, and what of that path do we project outwards, and how doest that operate.

First I should offer I caution and acknowledgement, that runs through Palmers writing on this, and that is a recognition of deep personal wounding and trauma that is not simply a matter of acknowledging — violence, neglect, and mistreatment, physical, social and emotional — are not simply wolves to be-friend, or shadows to recognize, and to begin to speak with authority on these sorts of things would be well beyond my scope of knowledge and deeply irresponsible.

Some of the shadow that Palmer speaks about, some of the murkiness in the apple juice are phrased like this:

    • Insecurity about Identity and Worth
    • This is a competition — I must fight and win.
    • It all depends on me.
    • If we manage everything perfectly, we won’t have to deal with chaos and pain.
    • Nothing can fail or die on my watch.

But why would anybody want to take a journey of that sort, with its multiple difficulties and dangers? Everything in us cries out against it—which is why we externalize everything. It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own souls. We like to talk about the outer world as if it were infinitely complex and demanding, but it is a cakewalk compared to the labyrinth of our inner lives! (Let Your Life Speak)

To use another or prop, I might pick up my handy flashlight…

If I were to invite someone up here and then shine the flashlight on them it might represent something I am hoping to bring into the world, an idea perhaps. However if it is not received exactly how I wish it were, I am inclined to blame it on that person. But when I put my own hand in the beam of the flashlight I am reminded that whatever has happened with my idea, may well be my own ‘stuff’ projecting onto them.

When working and living in community, and challenged by the presence of other people, who come from different perspectives than me, I can be tempted to, instead of seeing them as whole, as deserving of attention, but instead of personifications of my own stuff that I am reluctant to confront within.

One challenging truth is that this so often operates with those we are closest to.

But when we become aware of how this operates, we can become both less and more surprised when it does.

Less because just as we are aware that we do this, we become aware that others do — and so what we experience as attack (and sometimes is) may as well be projection of another’s questioning, insecurity, fear onto us. This doesn’t make it easier, or excusable, but it can invite us to curiosity — and this is where we are able to be surprised more often.

We can reject simplifications, that another is just a curmudgeon or opponent, and accept that their response is as complex and human as is our own, then our reply is not to up the ante of the battle, but to bring it down.

Now a reflection like this does not give us time to speak about boundaries and integrity — something which we address as we bring this to a close, because acknowledging this does not mean to shrink from that which we believe in, nor require us to acquiesce to unfair treatment.

But this does begin to name why shadow work, the challenging work of self-knowing, may be personal but is certainly not private — for it’s implications are felt by those around us, and similarly, safe circles of community and conversation, can become key to these exercises — and accountability another helpful tool.

For the reality is that we are both parts of Psalm 1, that are we are both the Blessed and Woes, and that wholeheartedness is not something to be arrived at once, but to be checked in and nurtured daily — acknowledged to be personal but not private, recognizing our connection and accountability as paramount.

For in life, in death, in life beyond death.

God is with us. We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.