When we find that thick, loveless darkness in ourselves we become strangers to ourselves. It is even worse than those times when the darkness, like a dense fog-bank, rolls over us from outside in the form of cruel accidents or sudden illness. The feeling of self-alienation wells up as a terrible discovery from within, as if in a horror movie we discover a strange, inexplicably hostile force living in the cellar of our own home.
When a healthy young person is diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness the world changes for them in seconds. Even before the doctor utters the fateful words her look of sympathy, a flash of eye-contact betrays the message about to come. The person of boundless possibility has now become a patient, an object of research, testing and observation, sometimes also an object of awkward pity. A defence ring around them has suddenly come into being. The sense of self is radically altered. They grasp for the hand of their spouse or loved one to reassure themselves that they are still here, something of their world has remained, and that the assault on them has not yet been total.
It is even worse when the confrontation with strangeness comes from within. It is more than finding one’s shadow which, in the past, you already knew or briefly glimpsed. This is merely the other side of us, the unofficial biography, the self that does not comply with the personal details of the public self. The faithful spouse drawn into infidelity. The ecclesiastical prelate with a lust for money. The housewife with a gambling problem who goes to the casino after dropping the children at school. Shadows can be more or less dark. Sometimes they are merely laughable.
But they need to be noticed and acknowledged and the time of Lent should have given us opportunities to do so. Lenten self-control and saying no to our desires should have made a light-filled space for the shadow to show itself. No shadow without light. No shadow without an object blocking the light.
But the darkness itself, encountered within ourselves, is a deeper mystery and touches into the most primal fear. By ourselves we are weak warriors. Normally we turn and run. We need a leader of light who can swallow the dark and breathe out light.