August 21, 2005
Mathew 7:3-5, and 12:22-32 and Mathew 5:8
The issue with any theory is, is it congruent with reality--------does the map fit the actual territory? New Church teachings have a map of human growth and development that includes both the psychological and the spiritual dimensions of who we are. The question is, is the map right or not?
Well, there is one area of this map that has always bothered me, sort of made me twist in my seat, as it were. The bad part is, I believe that the doctrine is true. But the great part is, it draws me further into the truth that sets me free. Let’s see what you think.
Suppose you were invited to a Halloween costume party. What costume would you select? Would it be that of an astronaut, a singer like Elvis, or Britney Spears, a Supreme Court justice, a stripper, cop, Little Bo Peep, a weightlifter, a devil, a saint, or some celebrity or very famous person? I once knew a Catholic married couple who went to a Halloween party dressed as a priest and a pregnant nun!
The costume we choose, as well as the “pretend person” we would like to be, can possibly tell us some things about ourselves. Indeed, though we see ourselves as being one, there are many dimensions to each of us--------as our theology would clearly state: “we are a composite of many aspects, both instinctual and spiritual”---------and I doubt if anybody would seriously question this. There’s the “daily me” that I present to everyone to see, and there are many repressed “me’s” that I typically keep out of sight. “I am large,” cried Walt Whitman, “I contain a multitude.”
But now the plot thickens a bit!
That which I do not want to be, that within myself with which I least desire to associate, that which I find frightening or threatening to my self-image---all this I unconsciously push down into what some have called the “shadow” side of their personality. The shadow is not always synonymous with evil, but it does contain aspects I fear or that I think will lead me to be unacceptable to people. I repress these aspects, hoping they’ll dry up, or go to sleep, so I won’t have to deal with them. But, alas, they don’t sleep forever! Repression and denial don’t work. What is repressed is invisible for a while, but eventually it returns in the same way, or worse!
Psychological health calls me to meet all my inside realities and responsibly admit that they are wholly my responsibility on a practical level. The French have a saying, “The person who acts like an angel eventually winds up acting like a beast.” “Celui qui fait l’ange, fait la bete.” A human being on earth is more a combination of both angel and beast. Deny the reality of either, choose to stick my head in the sand and not acknowledge there existence, and I suffer……..and so will others!!
And so, at this point, New Church theology or spirituality is in total agreement with modern psychological theory. It is clear that severely inhibited people, and those possessing an unhealthy religiosity, would find it difficult to laugh with those in their Halloween costumes! They would thereby demonstrate their own inability to acknowledge their own shadow side………that is, all the wild and troubling impulses that are there-------the ones pictured or represented by the various enemy tribes or nations in the Old Testament, some of which were cannibalistic, or others that had a bad habit of attacking an enemy from the rear when they were at their weakest known as the Amalekites.
Indeed, is it not much easier to deny the reality of my own shadow side, and instead focus primarily if not entirely upon the “plank within my neighbor’s eye”? How tempting indeed it is to point the finger at others and not primarily at one’s self……………..to focus my attention on the disorderliness or dysfunction in others, while paying little attention to my own. Did not our Lord once say, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Let’s take another real life case. A couple of years ago when a married 36 year old youth minister of a church ran away with a 16 year old girl from his youth group! To the shocked church members, he had been a good guy interested in helping the kids in order to “serve the Lord.” Obviously, he never let himself meet the other shadow parts of himself that needed his supervision more than the kids did.
Many of us fear meeting the instinctual and natural parts of ourselves. Our fear is that if we know they’re there, they might rise up and possess us. The opposite is actually the truth. When we don’t meet and deal with what is in us, there is GREATER chance of being overcome.
Our spiritual goal, then, is not to deny our inner life in all its complexity, but to know it and struggle toward wholeness. In the traditional language of New Church doctrine we are now talking about the dynamic duo of repentance and reformation. These two words represent our finite human contribution to our gradual salvation in God; they are our side of the equation you might say. The other side of this spiritual formula is even larger and more immense, which is the Lord’s part in saving us, summed up in the word, “regeneration.” Regeneration itself is only God’s role, and not ours, which makes new the quality and character of our natural will. Only the Lord has the role and the power to dynamically change a selfish, shallow, weak-minded natural will into one that is gorgeous, loving, and utterly devoted to God. God alone is our “Regenerator”; we are charged with the task of choosing to repent and reform our unhealthy ways of being and how we treat others and ourselves, doing this with a prayerful, humble, and honest attitude toward the Lord.
As we do this in life, we become open to toward the Lord, and God moves in to those stubborn, hard-hearted, sometimes beastly aspects of us and transforms them……changes them…….heals them……….regenerates them! Another way of putting this is that this pathway of dynamic and good spiritual regeneration is that those wild and instinctual parts of our minds get reconnected with the higher and more powerful depths of love and goodness that flow from God. This is why in Isaiah’s 11th chapter we read in verse six about wild beasts becoming docile, kind and loving: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”
And toward this end, our theology has a very dynamic principle I’d like to share with you that, as I say, I’ve never really liked, but always thought was true nonetheless. And that principle is that as we live and grow it is NOT contrary to personal freedom, nor to Divine Providence, to compel oneself when needed toward what is good.
Now, this is not others telling us what to do, this is US telling US what to do, based within the truths and principles of sound spiritual living drawn from the Lord’s holy Word.
Uggg!!! This is not a pleasant thought really.
It implies inner conflict and struggle--------the opposite of inner tranquility and peace, which is sooooooo wonderful, as we all know. Even the Lord said a house divided cannot stand long.
So, we get to confront ourselves! In fact, self-confrontation is the cornerstone of all psychotherapy. It’s about blocking the exits…….no more escaping or running or excuses. We find the enemy, the act out, and we block it. We don’t let it have its way anymore. And as we do this, we may move forward within the temptation battle itself with even a glimmer of faith that as we do this, God Himself is working deeply and silently upon our hearts---------changing us, healing us, regenerating us into more and more of the beautiful person we were born to become within the blueprints of life set down thousands of years before we were born.
This can be very difficult work, no doubt about that! Where New Church theology and psychology and certain modern concepts (esp. Carl Jung) differ that I’d like to share with you revolves around the goal of self-confrontation……….after we confront ourselves, what happens next?
Jung and others would simply say that all that is needed is that we need to acknowledge and have a kind of gentle acceptance where all these contradictory instincts can live in peace together--------that this is what constitutes psychological health. Well, the teachings of the Lord’s New Church would say,,,,,,“yes, but only for a while.”
It IS true that we must acknowledge and accept the less than noble “stuff” inside us, and this process is what I referred to before, repentance. But ultimately, as we move and grow, the darker things must go…….must be pushed so far away that they cease to function in our lives----cease to be a real part of us. Is this the pure in heart the Scriptures speak of? I believe it is.
But in either case, it all begins with self-confrontation within the Light of God’s Word……….and that this is NOT contrary to personal freedom to have to do this. There are times when we must COMPEL ourselves to do what is good and right. Clearly this is true because we are both beast and angel here on earth, until spiritual transformation has come to fruition within us.
Do you struggle with the basic concept of confronting yourself, and the rightness of doing that? Where do you have the most difficulty in confronting yourself----what struggles give you the hardest time in this regard?
May we all go forward remembering this truth about growth---------even if it does make me twist in my chair at times. And as we take up the banner of dynamic regeneration, let us walk with confidence in faith that our Lord Jesus Christ walks with us, always sending His power of goodness and strength into us, which overcomes all that is dark, evil or unhealthy.
Christ said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Our Lord Jesus paved this way, long before we were born. For it was Him, God-Incarnate, who lived a life paved with goodness and right action, even when the beasts within His natural man screamed at Him to do otherwise and to sin. The Lord did say, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
May the Lord deeply sustain you in your journey of love and goodness, as you pursue and find God and His ways. May you feel and embrace the Lord’s peace and love as you pursue Him with wholeheartedness, diligence, and humility. Amen.