I travelled to Winthrop this weekend for a long-awaited family vacation. In order to get to our destination we had to travel through the Nespelem District of the Colville Reservation. For those of you unfamiliar with this area, it is a patch of desolate ground, strewn with volcanic rock. No streams or rivers provide life here and several massive serpentine power lines that transfer power from Grand Coulee Dam to the rest of the state split the land.
I have taken this road several times over the years. What struck me this trip was the fact that as we climbed onto the plateau, we entered a deep fog. It was a mystical mist (yes, I just did that) and it carried a deep sense of isolation. It got me thinking ; first from the Native Americans living on this reservation. Did the clouds provide an insular feeling that denied the reality of relocation to this land? As if trying to deny the horrible marginalization forced upon them? I’m not sure I even know the proper way to ask this in a way to honor them.
For “my people” did this mist give us the opportunity to ignore what had occurred? Or what continues to happen? Up there in the clouds a people live in their “sovereign” state. But it seems a state of destitution, broken down homesteads, poor roads and poorer people. Was this land chosen because it can hide what we don’t want to think about?
I think we do this in our lives, too. We create worlds of hazy shadow that protect us from our darkness. We obscure the facts that cast us in too harsh a light creating a fuzzy, more palatable likeness if, and when, we take time for reflection. C.G. Jung asserted that each person, on the whole, is less good than he or she wants to be. “Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is,” he said.
Many churches seem to perpetuate this type of existence. The pressure to present oneself and family as meeting these accepted norms has created something akin to schizophrenia. This can be seen as a stressed-out, arguing family instantly transforms while walking into a church building, asserting that, “We’re fine.” Many church leaders are content to leave this situation alone, being every bit engaged in such deception. Church can be a dangerous place to fully expose oneself. Church settings have lost their ability to discern the elements at work within a person and how this can help the community grow. One may wonder if such institutions are desirous of deeply understanding the individuals within their community.
The foundational goals of Jesuit philosophy are amazing to me. They can be summarized as, “know yourself, build community, impact the world.” They have provided direction in my life. More than that, they have offered clarity: You can’t know yourself until you can be real, be transparent.
Being real is living at that deepest level of honesty with yourself. It’s not just going around and exposing everything that you are to everybody you see. It’s looking for how you present yourself in a fake way, where in your life you put a mask on to prevent others from seeing what you’re afraid of them seeing. Where you are nervous about life.
I think that the only way to be real is to realize that someone loves you unconditionally for who you are — not your effort, not your faking it, or the masks you wear, not your potential. Jesus is the only person in my life who fits that. Check out what the bible says about him in Romans 5:8, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” That means that God loves me, not for what I can do for him, but because I am me. I used to think Jesus recruited me, like he wanted me on his kickball team because of all the good I could do for him. Or that he saw me for my potential, and if I didn’t reach that potential, he’d walk away. That’s why Philippians 1:6 hits me so hard. Paul talks about a faith that is “confident that he who began a good work will be faithful to complete it.” It says God started something in me; he’s not going to walk away. Combine that verse with my rambling thought and it may look like this to you and to me. Jesus sees all that we are, and loves us enough to sacrifice himself so that you and I can have a relationship with him and can experience real life. When we understand this, it makes us move, it makes us act.
I’m not sure I want all the expressions of my shadow to be present throughout the rest of my life. But I’d rather build an authentic community that leads to a beneficial impact of the world. If the requirement for this is truly knowing myself, it seems a small price to pay.