Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Where's YOUR Scar?

Most of us never really struggle with our darkest selves — the man or woman in the dark, the thing that is with us when we are alone and all of our defenses have been sent ahead. We decide to kill what scares us or threatens us, just to get rid of it. Native Americans. The wilderness. Blacks, Mexicans, the rich, the poor, gays, Democrats, Republicans, Christians, nonbelievers—you pick yours. At the end of every horror movie or fairy tale, the monster in the dark has to die. That's our way of telling ourselves our own darkness isn't going to stay around. But in the movies, you get rid of Jason or whoever, not with wisdom or surrender, but with violence. This is a deeply tribal solution. Kill the wicked witch, or Frankenstein's monster, or the dragon. Radical Muslims. Abortion clinics. Fundamentalists. Whatever. Destroy what lurks out there. That seems the logical thing to do: Blow it up. But in a way, blowing up the enemy is a way of giving up rather than wrestling. Wrestling is about encounter and understanding. That's much harder. So we run. We deny.

And we're part of a culture that encourages running rather than wrestling. We sedate ourselves and our feelings—strangely, the good as well as the bad—with chemicals, food, rage, work, sex. We can actually avoid the shadow forever. But to be a whole person, eventually it becomes time to stop running, and face what's been kept in hiding. The ones who face their shadows can become great warriors, spiritual guides, powerful healers. They can make amazing moms, co-workers, musicians, and teachers. They can be truly compassionate. The desert is the place where we finally head out so far that there's no way to find our way back before we give up all we brought with us and wrestle with what's inside. And we get stronger.

The story says that Jacob and the man wrestle all night. This is life and death stuff, what the classical Christian mystic tradition calls The Dark Night of the Soul. Jacob the grabber holds on tight. He's made a difficult journey, and his road has been his teacher; now he's finally ready to go all the way into the darkness of his hidden self. All of his sadness, all of his loss, all of the grief he was never able to feel for the loss of his father—he was gone from home when Isaac died—can come swimming up from the deep places.

The man—we still haven't been told whether this is an angel, or a warrior, or what—realizes that he's not going to be able to subdue Jacob. The story says that the man knocks Jacob's hip out of joint in order to escape. This is what the mythic tradition calls the "sacred wound." King Arthur sails away with one. The resurrected Jesus bears the marks of His crucifixion. Women's bodies and hearts are changed forever after the wounding trauma of giving birth. God commands the men of ancient Israel to carry circumcision on their bodies, a ritual scarring, as a sign of their being part of a separate tribe. Luke Skywalker loses a hand. Boys and girls in tribal cultures have scars on their faces from initiation ceremonies. These wounds are the remnants of our baptisms and our deaths and rebirths. You live through the dying process, but you're never the same. You have a story to tell. You know what it is to feel pain. Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings falls to his death in the depths of the Earth—but returns, reborn, as Gandalf the White, with greater wisdom and power than he could ever have had before.

But the modern adult doesn't want to be wounded. You take a pill for every little ailment. Commercials promise that there is never any reason to feel pain or even to have an unmet need. The ideal body shows no scars of any kind; it's perfect and young. All is well. "How are you today?" "Fine."

But not to be allowed to carry the marks and scars of the struggles you've had is to deny that you've ever struggled with anything you couldn't defeat — which is spiritually deadening and sick. You can't always be the football team that's undefeated. Where's the lesson in that? Yet that's what we're taught. A famous football coach says to his players, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing," and we all write it down on our "You Can Be A Success Today" calendar. But Jesus never pushes us to win; He encourages us to die. That's where victory and wholeness are. (But then, Jesus would make a terrible football coach. He'd want to equip the team members with servant's hearts, compassion, and courage in facing hypocrisy. They'd run some plays, then take a break, laugh, dance, spread out a big meal in the middle of the field and invite everybody. They'd sit and cry with the opposing player who's just broken up with his girlfriend. And they'd tell the overbearing coach that if he doesn't quit telling everyone they have to win, he should shove it and get lost.)

The story says Jacob walks with a limp from then on after his wrestling match. This is a good thing. He's not just the rich man anymore; he's the rich man who knows what it is to suffer and survive. If he had stayed the rich man with flocks and a tribe and riches in a faraway land, it would have been fun, but he would have simply ended up as a rich man with an empire. Now he's the wounded son, brother, and husband who has learned compassion and true strength. Excerpt from this book...

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