When I was part of a group of young Quakers back when I was in college, I knew a fellow who had been born and raised in a community of Friends. He was naturally hot-headed, but he had been trained from the time he was a little boy to speak gently and peaceably, with the willingness to yield. He always had to struggle hard to do so; it never came easy. And more often than not his gentle speech was a thin blanket over a forceful ego that wanted its way regardless.
Because I am sensitive to such tensions in people, I was often tempted to say something that would upset his precarious balance – his desire to behave appropriately cast in opposition to his urge to dominate – and cause the feelings to come racing out. It was a shadowy impulse, the Trickster within me, and I never gave in to it. But I felt it would unmask something, set something free – though admittedly at great cost to my friend.
As the author of the letter of James tells us in today’s reading, bitter envy and selfish ambition in the heart do not lead to a pure, peaceable, gentle wisdom. With these impulses alive within you, you can masquerade as a peaceful person, but it’s false and wrongly-motivated.
So what does lead to peace? “God yearns jealously for the spirit that God has made to dwell in us,” so “humble yourself before the Lord, and God will exalt you,” says the author of James.
Recognizing that we are full of shadowy impulses and aspirations, making them known to ourselves where we can, and laying them at God’s feet in humility is the pathway to the true wisdom that generates peace. This Shadow work does not happen quickly; it takes a lifetime. Often what we would repress needs to be brought out into the light, refined and developed. My Quaker friend had a keen intelligence and creativity that needed an outlet. And I had to learn how the Trickster could be a friend both to me and to the clients I would work with years later as a psychotherapist. God knows these things and will open channels both to insight and to development.
It’s necessary not to do Shadow work alone. It’s the nature of our darker impulses to stay out of reach of our awareness. But honest friends can help. A spiritual director can help. Attending to constructive criticism or even listening to what our “enemies” say for the grains of truth it contains can help.
Humility – an openness to what is really going on in our souls and the willingness to lay it all at God’s feet – is world-changing. God grant that we can find the ways to give ourselves up again and again to the work that leads to such wisdom. For “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” May it be so for you. May it be so for me.
Laurie Gudim is a writer, religious iconographer, and spiritual director living in Ft. Collins, CO. To get to know her a little better visit everydaymysteries.com.