Our Shadow is our Hope for Wholeness

In last week’s blog posting we thought about the debate between Sméagol and Gollum that takes place in the foul pit just before the travellers reach the Black Gate of Mordor. We saw Sméagol feebly resisting the ravenous Gollum who wishes to take the Ring and so be free of all who might harm him and who might become great and even eat fish from the sea “three times a day”! And we see Gollum overcome Sméagol and begin to crawl menacingly toward Frodo “with long fingers flexed and twitching”.

Sméagol is Gollum’s shadow that he has sought to silence over many centuries. Sméagol is the self who on first encountering Bilbo in the dark tunnels of the Misty Mountains welcomes the sound of a friendly voice and in playing the riddle game enjoys the memories of the world that he knew before he crawled into the darkness, the world of sunlight and fresh air. But this self is fearful and cringing and Gollum hates him, though, try as he might, he cannot get rid of him.

For that is the nature of our shadow. Like Gollum, we may despise the weakness that it represents or we may be one who carries a shadow self that clings to us despite our longing for goodness or light. What is certain is that we all have a shadow. That is why I chose Hieronymous Bosch’s anguished triptych, The Temptation of St Anthony a theme that the artist often returned to, as the picture that is at the head of last week’s reflection. The saint is unable to get free of the images of his temptation but learns a serenity in their company. Those aware of Buddhist art will call to mind images of the Buddha smiling, poised in perfect balance upon the turtle that represents the world, while surrounded by demons.

Of course there is no serenity for Gollum/Sméagol only endless and unresolved torment and there is little hope that he will ever find it. But there is that within him that has never submitted entirely to the Ring. That is why he is not entirely under the sway of the Dark Lord as are the Ringwraiths. It is why he has some freedom of action in his dealings with Frodo and Sam and is not bound to bring the Ring straight to Sauron when he has it within his grasp and it is in this lingering freedom that some hope for him lies.

Like Sam who longs to be rid of Gollum, the false and treacherous servant, we might long to return to some state of uncomplicated simplicity but we cannot. But we might come to see that our liberation can only come at the end with the aid of the very shadow that we hate, fear and despise. We might learn to ask what it is that the shadow has to teach us that we could not learn without its aid, what pathways we must travel by the shadow’s guidance in order to reach our goal. And as we yearn for our liberation we are thankful for the torment that is the expression of our freedom

8 thoughts on “Our Shadow is our Hope for Wholeness

  1. What a moving post. Learning to live with our shadows without being consumed by them is one of the most difficult things to do, but perhaps that’s because I never learned to enjoy its company as you suggest. There’s a lot to think about here!

  2. Thank you so much for leaving this comment. I struggle as I try to write well about this and I am grateful for the company of Frodo and Sam as I do so; even the company of Gollum! I am not sure that I would speak of enjoyment, either for myself or for them. I think it is in the nature of our shadow that it manifests itself to us as demonic, seeking to devour us. That is what makes Bosch so meaningful to me. Few artists have painted this reality so effectively. We shrink in fear (They are trying to kill me!) or we respond in disgust or hatred (I want to kill them!). Anyone who has not known either of those responses has not yet really encountered their shadow. I am watching someone I love very much encountering her shadow at the end of her life and she has no strength either to resist (as she has done with much courage through her life) and few inner resources, because she has not developed them, to know how to make peace with her shadow. All I can do now is to tell her that I love her again and again and to pray that grace will be greater than her fear.
    Gollum is shadow to both Frodo and Sam. To Frodo he is the one who gave into the Ring that Frodo resists with all his might. That is why Frodo begins with disgust and a desire to condemn. To Sam Gollum is the faithless servant and thus the opposite to everything that Sam holds sacred, that holds his sense of self. I remember once investing a lot in the idea of “faithful servant” and when I felt my service had been abused I reacted with a fury that I had not realised existed until then. Sam wants to kill Gollum without mercy and that is totally unlike Sam.
    I still have a long road to journey before I am at peace in the company of my own inner demons.

    • I will pray for this person, too. The end of Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis echoes with a kind of power and hope for humanity that I cling to. We are frail. But we are in the hands of a loving God, and I do believe that He will do everything short of violating our freedom in order to bring us safely home. If our shadows are part of that process, then so be it. ❤

  3. This is, indeed, powerful. I have thought of Gollum/Smeagol in their role as foils for each other, and for all others touched by the Ring. I have not, however, thought about them in terms of a shadow and an (albeit faint) light. You have, once again, given me a lot to think about.

    I hate my shadows, but it is true that I do learn from them. Maybe I should send you the chapter of my WIP mentioned in this post: https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/implications/ I think you might like it. 🙂

Leave a Reply to jubilare Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s