‘Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.’
(Carl Jung; Psychology and Religion)
I’m just in the process of putting together an exhibition for Lent on the theme of ‘Wilderness’. There are some stunning artists who have offered to contribute so it should be a really exciting and thought provoking show (I will post more details here soon). Over the last week or so I have begun to work on my piece for the show and am taking photos of the process as the images emerge. Here are the first two:
They are plywood boards that I have painted white with primer. My shadow falls across the blank surface and as the sun recedes it fades.
Wandering in the wilderness, in the featureless desert, our only companion would be our shadow – the image left from where we have blocked out the light. The wilderness is the place where we are confronted by the darkness of ourselves which is a terrifying prospect.
For Carl Jung the shadow self is an essential aspect of who we are. It contains all that we are ashamed of, all that horrifies us about ourselves. And yet, if we can accept or even befriend our shadow rather than reacting with revulsion or pretending it doesn’t exist, then he/she/it will have much to teach us and will allow us to live more fully as human beings. In fact Jung views the shadow as the foundation of our creativity.
There are clear parallels between the shadow self and the church’s ideas about sin (not a very helpful word these days I fear) – both pertain to the question we all must face of what to do with the darkness in our lives. Traditionally the Church has taught us that we must get rid of it and cleanse ourselves to be pure and holy. But I wonder if Jung’s ideas give us a way that is more life-giving, a way that still resonates with the story of Christ but that enables us to grow as human beings and realise our full potential in the world.
This leads me towards a view of holiness that isn’t about being kept clean and undefiled but a gritty holiness that you can only find in the dirt – in our own shadows and shadows of those around us. As we kneel in that dirt with grubby clothes rather than pure white robes it’s only there that we can wash each other’s feet.