Adapted from a presentation delivered to a 12-Step Worship in 2012
“We do not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.” (C Jung)
“You do not have to be good…you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves…” (Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”)
That is scary stuff for people who have descended into the moral squalor of addiction or for those who have made themselves crazy
trying to control someone else’s compulsive behavior.
What could that mean, “You don’t have to be good”? What good could possibly be established, what enlightenment could we possibly uncover by awakening the darkness within?
I thought when I began in recovery that I would no longer suffer from all that self-centered darkness and instead, I would naturally revert to the good guy I imagined I was — and had always been told I was.
It turns out, I am just as self-centered in recovery as I was before – only now I am hip to it. On a good day, I am awake to how self-centered I can be instead of asleep and going about my business wreaking havoc under the guise of being a nice guy.
I am not going to assume everyone here knows who Judas was or what he did. But, according to the story, Judas betrayed his friend Jesus and helped the bad guys arrest him.
Usually, in Christianity, when a story about Judas is told he is just a bad guy. The devil made him do it, or some other co-dependent explanation. Lost in all the stories is that Judas and Jesus were friends.
They had been together for a long time, and Jesus trusted Judas so much that he asked him to be treasurer of their community. Judas was the banker, the go-to guy. He probably had a lot of status among Jesus’ followers as a result of being so trusted.
Right away we know that is dangerous ego territory.
I am thinking that Judas was a good guy. Judas was what most of us aspire to: a success. Judas was an insider; not just an insider but an insider with Jesus! Jesus seemed to love him, and in return, Judas was so comfortable with Jesus, that the two of them could argue over policy.
But in addition to being a good guy, Judas was not conscious of his own darkness.
He liked being a good guy and hated being a bad guy. So he drew a curtain on those parts of himself that he was ashamed of, afraid of, embarrassed by, and dreaded.
You and I both know that when people are left alone and out of sight, and think that no one is watching — on the Internet for example — that they will do bad shit.
When we draw the curtain on parts of ourselves, so we can pretend we do not exist, those parts become darker and more powerful within us. They get bigger and more demanding, and they get trickier.
Judas was so unconscious that the angels of his darker nature grew and grew and grew. Someone figured out how to seduce them.
Many of us think that only addicts and co-dependents have such unruly dark natures. I hate to break the news: we are not special.
Every human being has a shadow, a darkness inside in which our walking wounded skulk around looking for nurture and power. The less we know about who and what is in there, the more influential and powerful that darkness is in subverting our thinking and behavior.
Judas didn’t just wake up one morning and think, “Hey, I’m gonna betray Jesus today!” He grew into that role, slowly, over time.
Like all of us, his darker nature co-opted his better nature and he began to think of himself in black and white terms: Good or bad, right or wrong, winner or loser, best or worst.
His hungry, self-centered, wounded childhood in which he was humiliated, hurt, or mis-loved reached up out of the darkness and grabbed whatever it could grab, all the while disguised as “Good” Judas who only wants what’s best for everyone.
He probably did not even realize how bad the consequences of his behavior would turn out to be because he was not conscious of the darkness; only of his wishful-thinking about the way he was “supposed” to be and what everyone else told him he was “supposed” to be.
In the story, all that bad behavior gets blamed on whom: An outsider, the devil. The idea of the devil is just another way not take responsibility for our own capacity for bad behavior or the true depth of darkness that is resident in all of us.
It was not some outsider, some mysterious dark energy outside of us,
that created Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, or machete’-wielding mass murder in Rwanda, or the American lynch mobs of the South, or the disgrace of Abu Grab prison. Those were all good, ordinary people like you and me that turned into monsters.
Stop right now and look around this darkened sanctuary. Every person you see, and most especially yourself who others see, is capable of participating in genocide, murder and all manner of awful brutality.
God forbid we are ever in that situation. But every day we are in lesser hazards in which people we love are vulnerable to us. We need to awaken to the voices of the wounded within us.
We need to awaken to the selfish, malformed little creatures within our heart and mind whose hunger is voracious and whose concerns always point inward.
We need to awaken to these angels of our darker natures and know and accept that they will always be resident. We cannot exterminate them, we cannot punish them, we cannot hide or somehow exile them. We must learn to love them, for they are us.
All the parts of ourselves, all of us within this single creature loved by God, must be known, accepted, and held.
Some of those wounded little beggars will never get any better –
never ever find healing – but even so, we can have compassion on those parts of ourselves and treat them with empathy and dignity instead of hatred and scorn. That is how we manage their power in us.
“We do not have to be good…”
We only need to let the soft animal of our body love the good, the bad and the ugly, and keep them in the light of our awareness rather than dangerously prowling behind some dark curtain.
And one last thing about making the darkness conscious: We cannot do it alone.
It requires the help of others — whether a therapist, spiritual director, soul-friend, self-help group, sponsor, or a gazillion 5th Steps – making the darkness conscious requires other people.
So finally, I want us to notice one last thing about the Judas story.
Knowing what he knew about Judas, perhaps knowing what he knew about himself, Jesus feeds Judas the bread and the wine of their last dinner together. Of course it wasn’t “Communion” as we have it today but it was the taste of community; the taste of shared love and acceptance.
Knowing what he knew about Judas, Jesus still accepted him. Had Judas been able to accept his own darkness, perhaps things would have ended differently.