We were in Ecuador at the time of the March equinox, one of the two days each year when the sun is directly over the equator. Tour guides repeatedly noted that on that day at noon on the equator, we cast no shadows. How intriguing to cast no shadow in broad daylight!
When you hear the word “shadow,” what comes to mind? How do you feel? Warm and fuzzy? Safe? Afraid? Cautious? What about when you consider your own shadow? Affectionate? Ashamed? Amused?
Poet Robert Louis Stephenson evidently felt whimsical, playful, curious, and a bit conflicted about his own shadow. In the first two verses of his poem, “My Shadow,” he writes:
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And to see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nurse as that shadow sticks to me!
On one hand, shadows are a blessing. In the heat of the day, we find shade and relief in shadows. The psalmists speak with joy of “hiding” (Ps 17:8) and “abiding” (Ps 91:1) in God’s shadow. Scripture describes the Law (Heb 10:1), religious festivals, and the Sabbath as shadows of the good things to come in Christ (Col 2:16-17). In other words, we can appreciate and benefit from these shadows of the Real and the Good, but we do not want to mistake them for Jesus, who provides all good things and fulfills them.
Even my own spiritual shadow can become a blessing. When I look at my shadow, I see a replica of my real shape, the true “me,” the new creation I am in Christ (2 Coe 5:17). Seeing my shadow (the broken, unhealed or sinful “form” I still sometimes take) can help me understand the “real” me, the way God designed me and is helping me become more fully. Seeing my shadow can actually be helpful in directing my prayer.
For example, when a Christ-centered mother struggles with an impatient, critical attitude toward her son, what might examining her shadow (brokenness, sin, temptation) reveal? Perhaps the mother is very afraid her son will fail in life. So what the mother really needs is to stay in touch with her love for her son and turn her fear over to God. Or perhaps the mother is afraid of failing in her role as parent and what she really needs is to turn to God for wisdom and strength in parenting. Or perhaps the mother is afraid of what others might think and what she really needs is to turn to Christ’s unconditional love to find her unchanging value.
When I look at my own shadows, what do I learn? When I see how much agitation and anxiety I feel in the midst of conflict, I see how Christ formed me to work for unity and kindness. When I see how depressed I get when over-busy and over-stressed, I see how God formed me to enjoy Sabbath and to receive His rest. When I see how sad and hopeless I feel for those who have never experienced intimacy with Jesus, I feel Christ in me longing for them to know him. I realize I need not despair because God loves them even more than I do. When I see how prone I am to feel shame and self-condemnation when I do not perform perfectly, I am reminded to find my real value in the perfect, unconditional love of God for me and to rest in the arms of my loving Father/Shepherd/Friend/Savior/Lord.
What are your shadows—your besetting sins, temptations, or unhealed woundings? What do these dark places tell you about the way God made you, where God wants to heal and transform you, and what to pray?
For God, “darkness is as light” (Psalm 139:12). Even our fears, temptations, suffering, and sin become opportunities for God to transform us. Into what shadows do you want to invite God today?
Yes, we cast no shadow on the equator twice a year. But the only way to cast no shadow of sin or brokenness here and now is to surrender fully to the living Light of the Spirit of Christ within us. With the Light of the World within us, shadows are no more. We shine.