Spiritual Directors International

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Befriending Your Shadow

Guest Author: 
Rev. Denise McGuiness

What lurks in the shadow?  Why are we so afraid of it?  We are taught by our culture to fear the darkness and to avoid mining it for what it might hold. If we are to truly be whole, we need to discover both parts of ourselves and our world: light and darkness.

What gifts does the shadow have for us to discover?  What can we uncover if we are willing to spend some time walking in the darkness, knowing that God is always with us in the dark night of the soul? 

The shadow is not always something to be feared but may only be that part that was denied by us or judged to be bad.  For example, many people worry about questioning God, especially if this God has been portrayed as the judging, all powerful God waiting to punish any wrongdoing.  Rather than admit to their doubts, people might cling to a judgmental view of others who don’t follow the doctrine that was taught to them as a child.  Instead of seeing this as a good way to develop in faith, questions are seen as heresy or a lack of faith.  If we don’t accept our shadow side, we are likely to project judgment on those who exhibit the very thing we are trying to deny in ourselves.

While many of us fear what is in the dark, there is also a blessing that lies in wait for us there. In the shadow are the condemned parts of us--the parts society or our family tell us are wrong (e.g., anger, tears, sexual orientation). 


The importance of working with the shadow was driven home for me recently in working with a directee who had panic attacks.  After working on the specific set of fears she had without much success, I decided to delve deeper. Hidden from me at first, she was finally able to admit to being raised in a religion that condemned her sexual orientation.  Her “good religious” parents refused to acknowledge her partner of twenty years.  After weeks of exploration and assurance that her concept of God might be misguided, she was able to embrace what she kept in the shadows from me and even from herself.  In doing so, many of her fears disappeared even without the need to address them directly. 

How do we “befriend” the shadow and spend some time getting to know what it has to offer us? In photography as in life, sometimes what is hidden in the shadows is more interesting than what is seen at first glance in the lighted areas of our photographic subject.  Shadows give photos more depth and dimension.  They bring a two-dimensional picture into three dimensions. It does the same for us in our walk with God.  When we acknowledge those parts of ourselves that have been denied we add depth to our intimacy with God, who after all knows and loves all parts of us even before we are willing to acknowledge them.

Reflection questions:

             What lies in the shadow part of your life? What part of you do you find hard to claim?

             What gifts lie in the shadow part that need to be claimed? 

             What fears do you have about claiming them?

This blog is taken from Available Light: Awakening Spirituality through Photography by Rev. Dr. Denise McGuiness and Rev. David Tinney