Can we face the darkness of our own depths? Individuals and societies who can’t face their own shadow side will often project it on others.
A fairly literal translation of Genesis 1:2 would be:
The earth was unformed and void — and darkness on the face of the depth/abyss, with the divine spirit/wind hovering over the face of the water.
In those dark depths rested all the potential energy of creation.
Theologians of many faiths are rediscovering the sanctity to be found in dark as well as in light. (I have learned so much from my friend Rabbi Fern Feldman’s pioneering explorations, which you will find in this Gateway of Darkness.) Psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote about the Shadow, metaphorical language for the denied and unconscious aspects of both our own personalities and our social collective. The inner struggle is well known in the Torah and Bible, where the personal and the national are part of the same epic story. Our ancestor Rebecca felt a fierce inner struggle as her two sons–founders of two future nations–struggled in the darkness of her womb. Twin sons were born, Esau and Jacob, each of whom projected his own rejected qualities upon the other so that the two became rivals.
Perhaps coming to terms with his own Shadow and his own imperfect history in this brotherly conflict was part of Jacob’s struggle with the angel, at which time he gains a new name of Israel to signify that he is now the father of a nation. After his nighttime Shadow wrestle, Jacob is ready to reunite with Esau, who embraces him and reconciles.
What happens on the personal level in the “dark night of the soul” can also happen on a social level, when we confront “dark” and challenging times. Refusing to face the hidden Shadow in ourselves and our society, instead we project them onto others, a strategy which can multiply suffering and evil in our world.
Instead of the rejecting our personal and societal shadow, instead of making others into scapegoats, we are invited to the hard work of integrating all parts of ourselves and all the multi-faceted truth of our history and society. For our Shadow also contains life-affirming creative impulses. In this sense it has been noted that the psychological metaphor of Shadow parallels the Rabbinic concept of the Yetzer Ha-Ra, the powerful inner drive that we call “bad” but when properly channeled provides a potent and necessary source of life-energy.
When we fully enter our darkness with faith that God will be with us in the Valley of the deepest Shadow: we are ready to greet the light:
When does God bring light in the night? Though it is night, there is the light of the moon, and the stars. Then when is it really dark? Just before dawn! After the moon sets and the stars set and the planets vanish, there is no darkness deeper than the hour before the dawn, and in that hour the Blessed Holy One answers the world and all that is in it: out of the darkness, God brings forth the dawn and gives light to the world.
–Midrash Tehillim 22:3 (Hebrew here)
Featured photo: Kris Williams, via Flickr: ‘The Spirit Of The Lake‘ – Llyn Llydaw, Snowdonia, photo taken with 33 exposures between 2:00a.m. moonset and 3:30a.m. sunrise April 26, 2015