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Strength of a Call

The true strength of a calling seems to emerge when the shadow does and you get to see how you deal with that.

Joseph Campbell once said that "where you stumble, there is your treasure," referring to a story from the Arabian Nights in which a farmers plow catches on something in the dirt, and despite much struggle he can't dislodge it. He finally stops, digs in the ground, and discovers that his plow has caught on a metal ring attached to the door, through which the passageway leading to a treasure. Wherever our mossy primal fear reside – our fears of the dark, of death, of being devoured, of meaninglessness, of lovelessness, or of loss – chances are good that beneath them lies the gems of wisdom and maybe a vision or a calling. Wherever you stumble – on a tree root, on a rock, on fear or shame or vulnerability, on someone else's word, on the truth – dig there.

Whatever lies beneath the surface will usually put up a fight to stay there, and this goes for some of the wildlife we're likely to encounter in diving into our own pasts. We're up against that which doesn't want to be remembered and wants to remain anonymous, invisible, mute, to  cover itself with dirt and leaves and hide while the posse gallops by.

We're up against whatever we have rejected throughout the run of our lives; the parts of us that split of and went tumbling away; our unlived life; the animal that sleeps at our doorstep.

These unlived parts can include 'negative" qualities, such as anger, fear, weakness, aggression, vanity, idealism, lust, laziness, tears, everything we were instructed n ot to talk about because it was too embarrassing and too private, all the ghettos and back alleys of our psyches. The unlived parts of us can also include "positive" qualities, like power, leadership, trust, compassion, commitment, sensitivity, creativity, faith, exuberance, and the contents of that 90 percent of our brains we haven't figures out how to use.

These rejected parts include whatever wasn't loved, respected, and accepted in us by ourselves, our parents, teachers, peers, religion, and culture. Carl Jung called it our shadow. Robert Bly calls it "the long bag we drag behind us." In all those qualities that were disapproved of by the people whose approval we needed in order to survive, or believed we needed.

In whatever we rejected, though, is something that a part of us wants, and there lies a calling that we should follow, if only for the sake of completing the jigsaw and healing the past.

Faith will eventually ask of the faithful "What are you willing to give up in order to follow your call?" Sacrifice, says Thomas Merton, is "the shadow in the calling". It reminds us that we pay a price for every choice and that life doesn't hold still. It constantly gives over this for that: it wears down its banks and changes course; it's a propeller that spins so fast it appears to be solid but you don't dare and try to grasp it.

If calls take us toward what we most deeply want anyway – authenticity, integrity, the full complement, the uncut version – then shining a light into the shadow is part of our deliverance to that outcome, part of our passage. "Everything rests on awareness that a hidden life exists," the writer Joy Williams says




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