Needing a New Christ Image

Needing a New Christ Image May 21, 2023

Photo by Pixie Lighthorse
Photo by Pixie Lighthorse

In Need of a New Christ Image

My intimate experience of Jesus, as a child aligned very well with the common images of savior, counselor, friend, teacher, etc. These images provided protection and intimacy, elements lacking in my childhood, and through my mid-20s. However, a point came when I needed to engage my anger, set better boundaries, and take care of my needs, but my previous image of Jesus prohibited acting on these needs. I didn’t know it, but I needed a new image, a new symbol to help me toward wholeness.

Christ, an Image Wholeness

“To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.” Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections 1961

From the Jungian psychological point of view, Christ is an image of the Self, the universal archetype of wholeness. The Self, according to Carl Jung, is synonymous with wholeness–the Self is the center and circumference of our humanity and what ties us all together. It incarnates and saturates life, but the Self is also autonomous and vastly more expansive. Though our experience of the Self (Christ) is real and valid, it is nevertheless partial. We cannot experience the Self in full, but we are made more whole through our experiences.

The Ego and the Self

The ego (Latin for “I”) is the conscious part of our personality. Often the ego is understood negatively as a word meaning self-centered, but it is truly just the part of us that is aware of who we are, and how we experience life. The ego also functions to meet our most basic needs for love, acceptance, protection, etc., but it often contorts our humanity to do so. Put simply, the parts of us that don’t propel us in meeting our needs, nor align with the expectations of our family, culture, gender scripts, religious context, etc., become hidden, repressed, and denied.

Finally, the ego gives form and language to our experiences with the Self. Blended with the contemplative Christian perspective, when we experience Christ, we experience wholeness. The Self is actively welcoming back into conscious relationship the parts of our personhood we hid, repressed, and denied earlier in life.

Meeting Solid Panther

One Fall weekend I attended a guided retreat in a remote part of Idaho with about one hundred men. The facilitator led an active imagination exercise where we entered a dark forest and encountered a wild animal. In my imagination I looked up into a dense tree and saw a panther slowly walking toward me. His name was Solid Panther, and for about two years he became an image of strength, solidity, and boundary setting. I had always been taught to be a nice boy, to smile, and make everyone feel welcome, even at my own expense. But Solid Panther was so stoic. He taught me that I’m not responsible for others, and that love and hospitality is about constituency and presence, not hyper-vigilance and an over-functioning intuition.

Solid Panther provided an incarnate image of a divine aspect of my humanity. He was truly a symbol, an image of the Self, of Christ and by imitating him, I could integrate vital parts of my humanity, repressed in my early years. Solid Panther helped me know my body and listen to its signals; he showed me that others were fine without me, which freed me to live from a place of abundance rather than scarcity.

We Must Transgress to Grow

Solid Panther allowed me to transgress my ego narratives in a way my Christ image never could. Of course, Christ transgresses many times in the gospels. His entire life was basically one big transgression of the collective expectations of his day, from the manger to the cross. However, I was conditioned to see Christ as an image of purity and self-sacrifice only. Not that these images are bad, but they aligned so closely with my ego (my conscious identity and personality), so they could not help me integrate my hidden self.

Look Over That Shoulder

A number of years ago I came to my spiritual director with a disturbing dream. I had seen Jesus smiling with arms stretched out welcoming me to embrace. As I walked toward him face froze, and he became like a two dimensional cardboard cut out–there remained a vainer of life, but no soul. My spiritual director told me, “The next time you see the cardboard Jesus, just look over his shoulder. That’s where you’ll find him,.”

Just as the seasons change, so too do our images of God. This happens so our ego doesn’t latch onto it too tight. We can do much harm to ourselves and others by clinging to a cardboard image of the Self, that was vibrant at one point, when a living image is being born in the manger of our soul. If your image of Christ has become a bit flat, look curiously over that shoulder.

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