We are still wading through the slush of this tremendous snowfall on Groundhog Day. Phil did not see his shadow-on February 2, because the sky was packed with thick, gray clouds. “We will get an early Spring!” people say.
What a fitting symbol, this idea of “seeing or not seeing one’s shadow” , just before we begin an early Lent! St. Benedict reminds us that we are to look at our own “shadow-side” for the purpose of conversion: We are supposed to be “washing away in this holy season the negligences of other times and refusing to indulge in evil habits.” (RB 49: 2).
What actually makes a shadow, this dark, ghostlike figure on the ground, caused by an eclipse of light? The white untouched surface of freshly fallen snow appears in this area as if smudged by a shape that resembles our own figure: sometimes shorter, or elongated, and often grotesquely distorted. It is we ourselves who are blocking out the light and thus darkening our environment. If do not want to see our shadow, this does not necessarily mean that our dark spots aren’t there, nor that the sun is not there. We are just not standing in the light, or do not open our eyes to this light. (Cf. RB Prologue 9.)
Lent invites us, to move into the Light of God’s Word in our lectio divina, so that we can see Him, this world, and ourselves more clearly. When God’s light shines on our own person, i.e. when we apply the Word to our own situation, then we will also discover our shadow: our weak spots, our critical thoughts and negative feelings, etc. These evil habits follow us like shadows wherever we go. We cannot shake them off. It takes courage and honesty to look at them and to acknowledge them. Then we will have a more perfect view of the whole reality of life: We perceive that God is Light; but we are often blocking it by our own stubbornness, our pride and self-pity, so that it cannot shine through us. Often we focus too exclusively on our misery, or on the suffering und problems of our world that we do not perceive the greater reality behind and beyond the dark events. The grace of God is always there, even at night, when the sun is not visible to us; when our earth turns its back to the sun and plunges us into a cosmic shadow.
But we will also perceive that the cross is not the end; behind it there shines the sun of a greater and more brilliant reality: God’s mercy has already penetrated our darkness and in doing so, has wiped out the world’s sins and faults through his Son’s death and resurrection.
And there is more: God can use our shadow-side to “show His power in weakness.”
(2 Cor. 12: 9) God alone can heal our wounds and enlighten our blindness so that we are able to see rightly, if we not refuse to look. In fact, He has already done so, even before we even ask. (Cf. Prologue 18 – 21) All we have to do is turn toward him, acknowledge our weakness, our sins, and embarrassing faults, and ask for His forgiveness, His help and guidance.
In this Lenten season, let us faithfully place ourselves daily into the Light of His Word. In this light, we will discover not only our own shadow: “the negligences” of our past and “evil habits of our present days”, but also the God of mercy who is always the God of hope and reconciliation, the God of the future. When we courageously look at ourselves and at the plight of our world in God’s light of promises, we might slowly discover that even our shadow side has a silver lining: We are coming to know better who we are; we grow in self-knowledge and in humility: We realize that we are sinners, but forgiven sinners; and God alone is Light. Behind the cross there shines the Light of the Resurrection and the brilliance of the new world God has in store. The more we let His light shine into our eyes and hearts, we become penetrated and illumined by this light of hope so that we can reflect it on to others. We ourselves will be witnesses to the fact that behind all shadows there shines the sun of an early Easter. Let us walk through the shadows of Lent toward the Lord’s and our own Resurrection with hope and faith. Have a happy, hope-filled Lenten season.
M. M. Thomas, O.S.B.
Copyright Abbey of St. Walburga 2016