The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church exists as a beacon of liberal religious thought and practice. Amid the challenges and changes of a chaotic world, we aspire to proclaim and embody the possibilities of meaning in human life, of freedom in human thought, and of peace and justice in human community.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Reflections on Yom Kippur by Reverned Tom Capo

          I believe the Buddha said something like this: “Imagine that you are walking along a path in the forest and suddenly, out of the trees, comes an arrow and heads right into your thigh.  When the arrow goes into your thigh, do you say to yourself, ‘I wonder what kind of wood the arrow is made out of…  I wonder where its bird feathers came from…  I wonder how hard the arrow traveled before it hit me…  NO! What you are thinking is, ‘I gotta get this freaking arrow out of my leg!’” 
          This makes sense, but so many of us do not remove the metaphorical arrow from our metaphorical leg.  We dwell on it instead sometimes for years.
          After my father got into recovery from his alcoholism, he came to me wanting to reconcile.  He had done his fourth and fifth steps in Alcoholics Anonymous, a searching and fearless moral inventory, and admitted to God, to himself, and to another human being the exact nature of his wrongs.  And he said before we could reconcile he needed to make amends to me. 
          Now you might wonder why I am telling you this story when we are talking about Yom Kippur.  First as Bev mentioned earlier, Yom Kippur is about confessing, being honest in our personal inventory, and then working on forgiveness and reconciliation with one’s god and other people.  My father had certainly done these things.
          But here’s the hitch to all this.  At the point my father came to me, I was still in process.  I hadn’t done all the forgiveness work I needed to do and was not sure I was ready for reconciliation.   I wanted to think about it some more.  I wanted to write about it some more.  I wanted to be in control of when and how this happened.  I couldn’t even conceive of reconciliation with my father.  I was stuck and not sure what to do.
          Unitarian Universalist minister Reverend Forrest Church wrote a sermon on Yom Kippur and talked about this stuckness: 
“Look at it this way. You are reading a book. And then you get stuck. I know it's happened to you. So often it's happened to me. I read a page and then realize I wasn't paying attention. My mind wasn't tracking. So I go back to the top and read it again. Simple, right? No, not so simple. Because, more often than not, when I go back to read the page again I get even less out of it than I did the first time. I go into a kind of trance. I concentrate harder, but to no avail. I read sentence after sentence, and then get to the bottom of the page and again realize I haven't caught the drift. So I go back to the top. This time I really concentrate. I read it word by word. I hear the words ring in my brain, but they don't even compose sentences. The harder I try to get through this page, the more completely incomprehensible it becomes. I am in a trance, increasingly frustrated, more and more lost.  In life, as when reading a book, whenever you are stuck, when the harder you try the less you comprehend, when you have read the same passage three times with diminishing returns, my suggestion follows the logic of this sacred season: ‘Turn the page.’”
Reverend Church concludes, “Yes, you will probably have missed something. But sometimes trying to find something you know you have missed just delays you from discovering things that await you when you turn the page. New characters. A twist in plot. Or the development of character, which almost never happens when we are stuck--when we are going over the same old page, again and again, caught in a trance, looking for paragraphs and finding sentences, looking for sentences and finding words. Not able to go on. Not able to turn the page. Reading the same words, the same thoughts, the same feelings over and over again, hitting bottom and then going back to the top of the page, the same page, where we are stuck with ourselves or with others or with our lives.   So that's my message … and the message of the season. If you've read some recent chapter from the script of your life over and over again, if you keep reading it over and it's making less and less sense, seal the book, turn the page.”
          So, I turned the page with my father.  I decided to meet with him, even though I hadn’t done all the work I needed to do, even though I didn’t feel I was ready, even though I had left so many things unexplored in our relationship.  I had been working on forgiveness of him for my own internal healing, but reconciliation that was something completely different.  I let him share his Step work with me.  I listened, I accepted his confession, his forgiveness, and his desire for reconciliation.  And I was numb.  I wanted there to be more.  In my head I had turned the page, but in my heart turning the page was much more difficult.
          I wanted to a new beginning with my father, but it would take some more time for me.  I could now treat him with kindness, compassion, respect, but I still needed joy, love, and connection to really turn the page.  I knew I had just ear-marked it to come back to it later. 
          The key was confessing my numbness to him and working together to find the joy, love and connection that we once had, and we both wanted to find again.
          In the Jewish faith, Yom Kippur calls for confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  We can, through with the help of our spiritual community here, as well as our own internal resources, do the work of confession and even forgiveness, knowing sometimes, reconciliation may not be possible.  Sometimes, the person is dead, or is not ready, or you are not ready, or the person is not someone you really want to reconcile with—perhaps he/she is an abuser—and we have to turn the page without reconciliation.  Our heart will not be fully healed, but we must move on in our lives.  As Rev. Church says:  “If you've read some recent chapter from the script of your life over and over again, if you keep reading it over and it's making less and less sense, seal the book, turn the page.”  Seal the book.  Easy to say, hard to do.  I told you of a page I had to come back to, but there are within all of us books that just need to be sealed permanently, so we can move on. 

Only the Shadow Knows by Reverend Tom Capo

     In preparation for this sermon, I watched The Shadow, a 1994 movie starring Alec Baldwin—as you saw from the preview, he is the Shadow. A Tibetan Monk says him: “… I … know that for as long as you can remember, you have struggled against your own black heart and always lost. You watched your sprit, your very face change as the beast clawed its way out from within you. You are in great pain, aren't you? You know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, for you have seen that evil in your own heart.” What evil lurks in our hearts? Only the Shadow knows. Only your Shadow knows. So let the adventure begin as we explore the shadows inside each of us.
      I can feel my shadow rising when my reaction to something is much larger than it should be. When listening to MSNBC news about how Donald Trump or Scott Walker or Jeb Bush is caught lying or distorting the truth or flip flopping something in my shadow screeches: “They are caught; they are bad; my political party is better. See. Ha Ha Ha….” This poke from something in my shadow tempts me to tarnish those whom I have named other, somehow different from me; while in reality they are human beings like me, imperfect like me, just trying to act on their principles, principles that aren’t ones I share. When I see the other, I dip into the unconscious well of my own disowned darkness with a wide brush and stain the icons I call enemy with the sinister hue of the shadow. I make them into monsters and they must be destroyed, and I must do it with whatever tools that are at my disposal. This is one reason I have difficulty with the political season, it pricks something in my shadow, frequently tainting those whom I feel are enemies and overly embellishing my heroes or heroines. My shadow is deep and dark and strong. I can learn from it, but I cannot allow myself to be completely absorbed by it.
        We all have a shadow; it is part of the psychological complexity of human beings. Most of us know what evils lurks in the hearts of men and women, for we have glimpsed those evils in our own hearts. Many times we try to deny the unpleasant impulses, the evil, hidden in our shadow by attributing them or projecting them onto others. We do this to keep ourselves from owning them.
      Psychoanalyst Carl Jung developed the concept of the Shadow. He believed that our shadow resides deep inside us, rich with life, and on occasion our shadow pokes up through our psyche. He theorized that many of us will subvert our shadow’s poke to some selfish or destructive use, and if we do, whatever poked us will go back deep inside our Shadow. He goes on to say, “…the less embodied [the Shadow is] in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
       Sam Keen’s poem describes how this process of projection can lead to identifying what you fear, your “enemies.” In most cases the enemy is something or someone who reflects what is in our “unconscious well” or “disowned darkness.” When we react intensely to a quality in an individual or group--such as lethargy or ignorance, assertiveness or success, sensuality or spirituality--and that reaction consumes us with great loathing or admiration, this may be our own shadow showing. We have all done this. Have you said at one time or another: "I don't know how she could wear that outfit." "This is the third time you arrived late without calling me." “You look like something the cat dragged in—just kidding.” This may be your shadow showing.
     The late psychiatrist RD Laing put it best:
The range of what we think and do
is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
that we fail to notice
there is little we can do to change
until we notice
how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds.
     Classicist ER Dodds writes: “Only those who know their capacity for lust, greed, rage, gluttony, and for all things excessive--who have understood and accepted their own potential for inappropriate extremes--can choose to regulate and humanize their actions.” We all have the potential for these excesses. Our desire for excess--that we may have put firmly in our shadow--still can shape our thoughts and deeds. Let’s say I want to buy the ultimate H-3 Hummer—the largest most elite of the Hummer series. I don’t just want it; I obsess over my desire. I spend hours on the internet looking at colors and styles and option packages. I daydream about the adventures in my Hummer will take me on; how glamorous I’ll look stepping down from the cab at the Lincoln Center or how serene I will feel when I gaze upon the Grand Canyon from its luxurious front seat. But a Hummer is voracious gas guzzler—sucking up our natural resources—and it is expensive—wasting dollars that could serve a better purpose—it just seems morally wrong for someone like me who cherishes the planet and humanity to buy such a vehicle. So I push this excessive, this bad, desire into the shadow, denying I ever had this desire. Later a friend buys a really nice new car, let’s say Lexus 460 Luxury SUV; suddenly my shadow looms up and takes control, and I react negatively—perhaps ridiculing my friend for her ostentatious purchase or pointing out all the problems she will face with this obviously morally wrong, gas inhaling vehicle. I might get a little, I dunno, preachy. If you feel an overwhelming, powerful–though not always negative—emotion, this could be your shadow showing. When you notice an emotional poke from your shadow, you can choose to not let it control your reactions, and you can take the opportunity to reflect on the experience, putting light into your shadow. By the way, I don’t really want a Hummer, but maybe fuel efficient Lexus ES 300h. Grey. With heated seats. And maybe remote ignition.
       If a culture is to be viable, there must to be certain agreed-upon moral standards, what is right or good, that those in the society agree to live by. As we grow up, our parents, teachers, ministers, authority figures, and peers school us on what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable behavior and what is not, what is okay to think or say and what is taboo. As we learn and as we decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, we put certain aspects of ourselves into some place deep inside ourselves—in our shadow. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, "If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" We try to hide away our aggressive impulses, our violent rages, our selfish needs, our deepest insecurities, our paralyzing pain. Some of our aspects may truly be evil or destructive to others or ourselves but many of our shadow aspects are our submerged dreams, fantasies, even talents.
       According to Jungian analyst Liliane Frey-Rohn, this dark treasury includes our infantile parts, emotional attachments, and neurotic symptoms, as well as our undeveloped talents and gifts. The shadow, she says, "retains contact with the lost depths of the soul, with life and vitality--the superior, the universally human, yes, even the creative can be sensed there."
     I had placed in my shadow, deep in my unconscious, a pre-teen desire to be a priest. My mother reminded me of this when I decided to pursue ordained ministry; she said when I had told her I wanted to be a priest she had dissuaded me, encouraging me instead to pursue my interest in computers. And so my desire for the priesthood was submerged, despite its potential to be a positive, energizing force in my life. She didn’t mean any harm; she just felt the Catholic priesthood was not a good career choice for her 11 year old son. People throughout our lives say or do things that cause us to choose to put part of ourselves into the shadow. It’s just part of the societal schooling from the authority figures and peers I talked about earlier. And my purpose is not to make the parents here feel paranoid about what they say to their children. We’re all doing our best here. Even the mythical perfect parent, who does everything single thing right every single second of every single day would still give a message that would cause their child to some part of themselves into the Shadow. It is not about what you say; it is about how we hear and how we make sense of what we hear.
      In order to honor what is in the shadow, to further integrate our whole selves, we need to find ways to develop awareness of all aspects of ourselves. Developing awareness of the shadow calls for breaking old habits and cultivating dormant talents. As R. D. Lang said, “The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.” "Shadow-work" is a term that refers to the continuing effort to develop an active relationship with the shadow. A healthier relationship with our shadow brings gifts. Through “shadow work”, we can achieve a more genuine self-acceptance; understand ourselves more completely; diffuse the negative emotions that unexpectedly erupt in our daily lives; and recognize the projections that color our opinions of others.
      After thirty-plus years, I finally heeded the “call” to become a minister that I had put in my shadow. Was I scared facing my shadow? You bet. Did I have a lot of self-doubt? Sure did. Did I feel like everything that I had ever known about myself was about to change, radically? Yup. However, I cannot tell you the positive difference this intentional, eyes-wide-open dance with my shadow has made in the quality of my life. I now honor my call to help others explore their own spiritual choices; I now honor my call to make our world a better place; I feel impassioned to read, study, write, and preach. My calling fills me with joyful, dynamic energy that I had never had before I tangoed with Shadow, even on the toughest of days. Is my life always butterflies and sunshine? Of course not. But it is authentically lived, and I am more integrated, more in alignment with who I am, because I said “yes” to dancing with my shadow.
     We need to remember that the shadow reveals itself again and again, always in our visceral responses to external or internal stimuli or cues, always giving us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and grow emotionally and spiritually. Our task is to refrain from becoming reactive or destructive when our shadow rises, and instead notice it, learn from it, integrate our shadow into our conscious being in order to become more whole. I invite you to listen to your shadow through your heart, through your body’s reactions to life. Let your shadow show you something that has been lying dormant inside of you. The experiences can be astounding. German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, reflects on his new experiences as a result of his relationship with his shadow, "...I can see farther into paintings, I feel closer to what language can't reach." During times of being connected to our shadow, we are both less self-conscious, while at the same time experiencing an expanded sense of self--a deeper sense of our own center--and a melting away of the usual boundaries separating us from the world. Life can be beautiful and life can hurt like hell. British Jungian analyst Liz Greene points to the paradoxical nature of the shadow as both the container of darkness and the beacon pointing toward the light: "It is the suffering, crippled side of the personality which is both the dark shadow that won't change and also the redeemer that transforms one's life and alters one's values. The redeemer can get the hidden treasure or win the princess or slay the dragon because he's marked in some way--he's abnormal. The shadow is both the awful thing that needs redemption, and the suffering redeemer who can provide it." If you seek out what is in your shadow, if you watch for it whenever it erupts, and then embrace it, you can be the redeemer who can provide the redemption you need. I urge you to courageously search for the emotional and spiritual nourishment, enlightenment, passion, and redemption that is within your shadow. I’ll close with another quote by Rilke: “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” Walking with your shadow, intentionally and consciously, is an act of beauty and courage which can lead to loving your hidden self.