Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 15, 2010

Acknowledging the Shadow

It has been so gray here the last few weeks.  It’s hard to complain, since other places have seen so much more snow, but the lack of sunshine feels oppressive sometimes. 

Yesterday we actually saw the sun for a few hours.  When I walked out of doors, squinting as though I’d been living in a cave, I was surprised not only by the sun, but also by the filled-in dark outline of myself on the parking lot:  my shadow.  I’d forgotten how bright the sun could be, and how dark the shadow.  For so long I’d been living in gray.

The season of Lent is upon us.  Lent prepares us for Easter, draws us back every year to the roots of our resurrection faith.

Resurrection faith, though, doesn’t begin with resurrection.  It begins with confronting the darkness. 

The upcoming first Sunday of Lent takes us to the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, this year Luke 4:1-13.  It is interesting that the gospels focus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on his being tempted.  Readers have sometimes said, “So what?  He wasn’t like us, being the son of God and all, so this was just a story about him.”  I’m not so sure.

It seems to me that the point is that he was exactly like us, so the struggles were real internal fights with his darker self, his shadow side, that he was able to overcome.

During Lent, we sometimes try to overcome our temptations to overeat, to be sedentary, to have unhealthy personal habits.  These are all laudable things, but they don’t seem very deep compared to what Jesus experienced.  Jesus truly turned and faced the shadow of his deepest needs and wants. 

We can live in a gray spiritual existence and never have to confront the shadows within.  But the more we move toward the light of God’s love, then the more we are able to see our darker selves, those things we really struggle with.

In our church, we have a prayer of confession each week, and it comes right on the heels of a hymn and prayer of praise.  There is a reason behind this location:  when we step into the brightness of God, our shadow is more visible.  We could ignore the shadow (our sin or our propensity to sin) and continue on as if everything is just right with us.  But if we turn to acknowledge the presence of the shadow for a moment, then we can begin to move beyond it.   It never really leaves us, but the choice is whether or not we will acknowledge it.  If we don’t, it gains more power over us and we make the same mistakes over and over. 

Jesus fasted for 40 days, spent time in the brilliance, and confronted his own shadow, the things that could have prevented him from realizing the fullness of his being and his purpose. 

As we enter into Lent, he leads us into the knowledge of how we can become ever more fully human, facing our own shadow, and walking toward the light.

shadows under the pier, Rockport, Maine

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010



  1. These are the lines along which I was working this week for my sermon. Thank you for this reflection.

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