The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
He leads me beside the still waters
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake
Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
I will fear no evil… (Psalm 23, in part)
I became very dearly acquainted with the Valley of the Shadow of Death shortly after losing a son in 2003. It was the darkest night of my soul and my place of deepest grief. Until that time, I had never experienced darkness quite like this. I was ready to die at any moment. I felt that I could sweep my hand to the side and brush aside the thinnest veil that rests between now and eternity. It’s a shadow that now rests on my life.
And as I was going through that Valley, I recognized (with confusion) that the line right before this one says that the Lord will lead us in paths of righteousness. Certainly, it means that the dark path I was now walking was part of the journey and part of the plan. It was righteous.
Non-duality would agree. When we walk with our Divine Source, we learn to embrace the bad with the good, the grief with the joy, the pain with the celebration. In fact, I not only accept my own pain, I accept yours as well. This is part of sharing life together.
Being raised in the church, there was little talk of the darkness, the valley, or the shadow unless it was mentioned as something we should avoid. More militant church language states that this is something to fight against. It is something evil–manifested by a dark being. Christianity has long explained it away as “has’satan” or “The Satan,” that is, The Accuser. But we must also reconcile the Shadow of the Lord and the shadow within our own souls. We must come to a place of reconciling the shadow. We must embrace a Source that leads us through the Valley of Death. A Source that allows suffering to rain on all humanity. A Source that allows us to wrestle with our personal “daimons” and doesn’t always rescue us from spiritual anguish.
In 2008, I went back to college to finish my degree in Biblical Studies and Psychology. A professor was speaking about this dichotomy of faith and his words shattered my paper-thin theology. I couldn’t understand how suffering was part of the story. And in reality, I was still reeling from the loss of a child. How could I trust a God that would allow that kind of suffering? How could I believe that this would never happen again? What if I lost another child? To be honest, everything felt shaky. I was going through a crisis of faith. Nothing that I once “knew” felt solid. I was experiencing a profound doubt like I had never experienced before.
In that season, I came face-to-face with what I now know as my “shadow-self.” My personal darkness. The truth is that while I was journeying through the Valley and experiencing suffering I was not angry with my God as much as I was angry with the terrible things surfacing in my own soul. Most days, I am a kind, fair person. The highest version of myself is empathic, giving, warm, and full of grace.
But my shadow self…
Need I describe her? If I were to ask you to describe your shadow self what would you say? Most likely, the shadow is rooted in self-centeredness. It seeks what is best for self. It is murdering, abusing, neglecting, hateful, bitter…
In transpersonal psychology, the human spirit is embraced “as is.” This means that recognizing and embracing the shadow of the soul is the first step toward spiritual growth. We learn to recognize the darkness, embrace it, and let our Divine Source and highest self call it up toward new healing and awareness.
This is where we begin to heal.