I have been pondering the power of shame and the fear of exposure, powers and fears that often cause us to hide from ourselves and push us either inward to a place of self-loathing or an outward place of masquerade, and I suspect that the two are often held in tension while we hide from the truth. But we fail to acknowledge our fears and our shame to our own peril, for I have come to believe that they are a strange gift, and can introduce us to ourselves in a powerful way. Struggling with my current depression and the reasons for that depression have caused me to dare to encouter my shames and my fears, yesterday I was helped in this trough an encounter with the Woman at the well that turned my thoughts upside down!
It began with the text, the woman leaves the village with her water jar, though empty it is heavy with shame, a shame that she wants nobody to witness, hence she leaves the village at mid-day, when others are sheltering from the heat she makes her way to the well. As my Spiritual Director and i pondered the text she pointed out that as it was mid-day the woman would cast no shadow, and pondered the psychological danger of that, Jung is keen that we engage with shadow work, but acknowledges the difficulties of it;
"The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge."
Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14
I recognise this struggle within myself, despite the discomfort of the heat of mid-day, like the woman I find that it is easier to avoid my shadow than to deal with it, what she didn't know was that she was about to deal with it, for Christ whose light reveals our shadows was already waiting for her at the well. The story unfolded, he asked her much to her surprise for a drink, and then offered her living water in exchange. Curiosite piqued she acknowledged her desire for this living life giving water and he drew the truth from her. The stagnant shame that she carried within was drawn out by his gentle questioning and his affirming acceptance of who she was. In a sense she had bared her soul before him and he (unlike others) did not condemn her. In a sense he restored her to herself, allowing her to be herself an accepting her for who she was. I wondered then what it felt like to have such a burden lifted from you soul.
We hear so little about Samaritan theology, but like the Jews they too were longing for the coming of the one who would put things right, they called hi the Taheb or Ta'eb, the restorer, or the star. In the last days the Samaritans believed that he would come and usher in a new day of justice, rebuliding the temple on Mount Gerizim. Her question to Jesus regarding the correct place to worship, this mountain or Jerusalem is a classic who is right and who is wrong question; but he reveals another way, the way of Spirit and of truth where living water is available for all.
As I pondered all of this I was able to begin to tell the truth about myself, in meditation I used Sieger Koder's image of the Woman looking into the well and seeing herself reflected in its depths, with Jesus reflected alongside her looking at her with infinite compassion. How must she have felt to be viewed in such a way, how do I feel, can I recieve such a gaze?
I began this post by talking about fear and shame, and have to report tat once again in the face of love they are washed away. As much as I might like to cling to them for the distorted safety net that they provide they have no place where love is concerned. Exposure is no longer terrifying because it simply reveals our true self, our image of God deeply loved and cherished self, in the face of that the stone of deciet is rolled away and new life can begin.
We enter life through life giving water, to be born and re-born of the Spirit; and I agree with Richard Rhor in his meditation yesterday that Salvation, or being bron anew is an ongoing process, he stated that;
"Salvation is not a divine transaction that takes place because you are morally perfect, but much more: it is an organic unfolding, a becoming who you already are, an inborn sympathy with and capacity for the very One who created you and everything else too."
Or to quote Jung again;
To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.
Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology" (1959). In CW 10. Civilization in Transition. P.872
So what happens when your world is turned upside down by love and you are issued an invitation to enter into life afresh? I want to share with you how Koders image spoke to me when I turned it upside down. I find myself with Christ looking through the waters of rebirth at what it might be to take a childlike leap of faith into newness.
Surely that is what propelled the woman back to her village, the blank disapproval of the disciples had not touched her, it was joy and living water within her that propelled her to run in amongst those who had condemned her to share her news.
Living water sets us free, the Spirit does not accuse or condemn, but gently waits while we reveal our truths, our hurts, our pains, and our percieved failings. The miracle of living water is that cleansed and healed all of these can become catalysts for real and sustained growth.
I am grateful to the woman at the well for shining her light upon me so that I could see my shadow in a new way.I could encounter, accept and even love the parts of myself that I usually hide. There was no shame, only compassion, but compassion was born of truth not a mask, nor a percieved need to conform to or please those around me. I have allowed that to die away and fall like an autumn leaf, and while I recognise that this is and will continue to be an ongoing process I am grateful for the streams of living water that have begun to flow afresh in my soul, and all will be well ( no pun intended).
Image; Deep flow (mine)