Meet Your Shadow

The other day I was watching the Dog Fights show on the History Channel. I'm interested in these war documentaries because my grandfather told me stories of his war years and these shows provide some of the dramatic images he talked about. In this particular show they were interviewing an American pilot who was battling his Mustang against four German Messerschmidts. After several life-threatening maneuvers he finally got some shells into one. It started to smoke and went into a violent tailspin. He watched it go all the way down to the ground, he said, "until he met his shadow" and a plume of fire, smoke and debris flew into the air. I immediately thought of the dangers of flying too high. The higher you fly the harder you fall. And this made me think about the danger of being separated from your shadow. Jung, the psychologist, discovered and taught that to ignore your shadow, to be ashamed of it, deny it, suppress it, not to acknowledge it, and to refuse to integrate it into your whole personality was an extremely dangerous and unhealthy practice. The integration of the shadow, for Jung, was crucial in the whole development of the healthy human being. The bible similarly teaches that an honest awareness of our dark aspects, our confession, repentance and a humble embrace of our fallen selves is critical for true life. This is why I think it is so dramatic when some leaders "fall". I put "fall" in quotes because the "fall" we witness is often simply the explosive integration of the person's image with the person's shadow. It is the spectacular manifestation of the person's fractured life uniting in one sensational display. It is the crashing fusion of the secret self with the public self. In seminary there was a guest speaker invited to one of my classes. He was a pastor of a rapidly growing and successful ministry. He'd written books and was the new hot thing. But what I remember most was the way he strutted about the stage. Afterwards, in the cafeteria with my friends, I made the comment that I felt he was too full of himself and that it made me suspicious of the whole enterprise. A few of my friends jumped on me and bitterly chastised me for being so cynical. I was cynical. Seems I haven't changed much. But it wasn't long after this that his sordid secret life hit the news and the whole thing was over. Shut down in a flash! I don't pretend to think that so-called leaders are pure and upon inspection should come out completely clean in the wash. We all like sheep have gone astray... even the shepherds! We all have shadows. We all have surrendered to the dark side. But it's the posing that gets me. It's the charade, the facade, the thinly veiled pride, that always raises my suspicion. These "falls" are for me the exposing of weakness that should have been acknowledged all along. I'm never surprised by the content of the secrets, for we are all made of the same stuff. But I'm always amazed by the incredible contrast that was maintained and perpetuated between the show and the backstage. When we fly high, all by ourselves, separated from the solid soil of humility, we are in danger of getting shot down and, like the pilot, meet our shadow in a violent, public and incendiary blink of an eye.

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