“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
The terrible and terrifying tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado this week is a stark reminder of the long, dark shadow within the human soul.
Two young men, just entering their formative years-at that crucial point in their development, erupted in violence.
The violence that erupted, premeditated as it was, is an indication of that energy which is at the heart of every human life-the daimonic, which can be creative as well as destructive.
When we say that these young men, or boys, if you will, were just entering their formative years, what do we mean?
They were moving from the dependent stage of human life, which is prolonged in our culture, toward independence-which, by the way, is not the ultimate stage: the ultimate stage is inter-dependence, which can only come with maturity, insight and wisdom.
These boys were still struggling with life’s most demanding task-to form an identity, separate from their parents. They saw themselves as different from most of the kids around them, and this served a purpose. So they got together with a small bunch who called themselves the trench coat mafia, which would be a bit amusing if it hadn’t ended in such tragedy.
There’s a real tension in each of us-a tension created by two opposing desires: the desire to be different from others and the desire to belong.
It’s easier, of course, to join the mass, to go along; to wear clothes that are in style-with labels very visible on the outside-a suggestion made by psychologists on the marketing team. Labels . identity . acceptance-all part of the package.
Columbine’s trench coat mafia was apparently influenced by a so-called singer who took the name Marilyn Manson, after Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson-a combination of famous and infamous names. Marilyn, of course, was Norma Jean Baker, but had her name changed by some marketing folks.
Let me review a few basic things from part I, last week’s sermon, which we titled ‘Naming the Demons’
We talked about the importance of names and naming; the name parents give to a child is almost never done lightly, and some cultures and traditions have strict rules about giving a name.
In the creation myth Adam is told to give everything in the garden a name, which suggests the importance and even sacredness of everything that exists. It suggests Adam’s responsibility to take care of everything that exists, which is what it means to ‘have dominion’ over all things. .
Jacob, who was alone and wrestled ‘with a man all night long,’ was given a blessing and his name was changed to Israel. Along with the blessing, he was given a big responsibility.
We were reminded that there is one thing which we cannot and should not ‘name.’ The word Yahweh actually means, ‘that which cannot be named.’
This is a paradoxical name: if we acknowledge that there is something we cannot name, we are acknowledging the existence of that which we cannot name.
While we acknowledge the importance of naming everything, we also need to acknowledge the limits of language, and our human limits. There is danger in naming that which cannot be named.the name which some call God. To name God is to commit the sin of idolatry.
The Old Testament is, more than anything else, one long warning against the dangers of the sin of idolatry.
Names are important. Language is important.
There is a name for what happened at Columbine High School: evil.
There is a name for what has been happening in Kosovo-not only what has been happening for the past month, but what preceded the bombing: evil.
Just for the record, the evil there is not one-sided. We always run the risk of demonizing the other, which we do with those we call ‘enemy.’
There is, however, an enemy ‘within.’ Yes, we are here to process what’s going on ‘out there,’ in the world, in Kosovo, in Littleton, in Fairfield County or at home; but we are here, primarily, to process what’s going on inside.
In his wonderful prayer, Chief Yellow Lark addressed the Great Spirit or the voice within and said, “I seek strength not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy, myself.”
We want to talk about what is good in the world, what is good in people, and to encourage what is good in ourselves, but we often fail to acknowledge the other side of good, which is evil. Our Greek ancestors, from whom we have inherited so much, referred to the daimonic, or the divine power, as both good and evil; one force, which can be channeled either way.
The poet Rilke made a comment about why he decided not to continue with psychotherapy by saying, “I’m afraid if my demons leave me my angels will take flight as well.”
Twenty eight years ago, when I was in the process of preparing for our ministry and went before the Fellowship Committee, the psychologist followed me out of the interview room, where I had struggled openly with my honest feelings about the process, making some angry comments.and he said: “Frank, don’t ever lose that energy; but you’ve got to channel it.”
It was one of the most important things that was ever said to me.
There is something in us-the Greeks called it a the daimon, or ‘divine power’–which we have to acknowledge; we have to name it.so that we can be responsible for it. It is the source of all our energy, which can be creative or destructive.
Carl Jung referred to the hidden parts of ourselves as the shadow. There are things we hide from others, or think we are hiding, because we’re ashamed.
There are things we hide from ourselves because they frighten us, or don’t fit in with the image we want to give .things we push down, deny or repress.
I remember hearing it described with an illustration called Jo-Hari’s window. There are four sections to this window into ourselves: in one section there are things I know about myself, and you know. In another section there are things which I know, but you don’t. In the third section are things that you know about me but I don’t know about myself; and in the fourth section there are things that neither you nor I know about me.
It is that fourth section that baffled the people in Littleton, Colorado-things about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that no one knew.until it was too late; until the damage was done.
To locate God and Satan outside of ourselves is dangerous, because it removes us from responsibility.
Rollo May, in his wonderful book Love and Will, put it this way:
“The daimonic is any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person. Sex, eros, anger and rage, and the craving for power are examples.”
“The daemonic can be either creative or destructive and is normally both.
“The daemonic is the urge in every being to affirm itself, assert itself, perpetuate and increase itself.”
The poet Robert Bly put it this way: “The shadow is the long bag that we drag behind us in which we’ve stuffed all the dark parts of ourselves that we would like to keep secret.”
There are some good, positive, creative things in the shadow bag. The word shadow, here, isn’t suggesting only negative things-it is referring to that which is denied or repressed.that which is hidden
An example of this is the tenderness and sensitivity that is hidden beneath the macho man’s so-called masculinity, or the anger hidden beneath the clergy person’s spiritual-like persona.
Our never-ending task in life is to get at ourselves, to know ourselves, as the Greek’s put it. The shadow side is hidden, but it’s not necessarily negative.
Is anger negative? If it erupts in rage, the way it did with the boys in Columbine High School it certainly is negative.destructive.
(As an aside let me just say that the etymology of the word columbine,which is of course a plant, is from Latin for the word dove, or dovelike.from the resemblance of the inverted flower to a cluster of five doves. If you trace this etymology to its Indo European root, kel, you find, in that root, the words gray, dark and black.)
The long dark shadow.the long bag that we drag behind us, or carry inside of ourselves, into which we’ve stuffed all the parts of ourselves that we’d like to keep secret.
Rollo May, in Love and Will, summarized it this way: “Happiness is to live in harmony with one’s daimon.”
The shadow isn’t necessarily ‘bad.’ It’s simply what we’ve pushed down or denied, even to ourselves.
We see it in other people, which is one reason that some people make us uncomfortable, or even angry.
We project our own shadow onto them because we see in them what we don’t like in ourselves.
The Greek idea of the daimonic has its counterpart in Hinduism. Swami Prabhavananda said it this way: “(we are) born with tendencies toward the Divine” (as well as). . .the demonic. The one moves towards the attainment of liberation, while the other moves away.to plunge down to . deeper sufferings.”
“Demonic tendencies (include) hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty and ignorance.”
“Hell has three doors: lust, rage and greed. These lead to man’s ruin. Therefore he must avoid them all. He who passes by these three dark doors has achieved his own salvation. He will reach the highest goal at last.” From: The Spiritual Heritage of India
Close of Sermon, a poem by Carl Sandburg: Prayers of Steel
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper
Take red hot rivets and fasten me into the central
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscrapter
through blue nights into white stars.