The spiritual and therapeutic work we strive for at The Seattle School is marked by personal integration—the capacity to bring the disparate parts of ourselves into conversation, including the parts we might prefer to keep hidden. Here, Ryan Kuja (MA in Theology & Culture ‘14) writes about how a seemingly ordinary walk forced him to confront two very different parts of himself.
Not long ago when I was living in Seattle, I walked down the street to a local coffee shop near my house. I ordered the usual, a tall Americano, stirred in a teaspoon of white sugar and some cream, and began walking the two blocks back home.
It was late afternoon, and the sun was in the midst of its descent into that mysterious place under the horizon where daily it goes to disappear. The sky was inflamed with a bursting orange hue, pockmarked with deep reds and brilliant yellows. I stopped for a moment, mesmerized by the magnificent intensity of the blazing patterns in front of me.
Having taken in my fill of the sky’s display, I began walking again, still enthralled by the colors and oblivious to my surroundings. I had gone 15 or 20 feet when I noticed out of the corner of my left eye a green figure, standing there frozen in stillness. The way the creature looked struck me with a force that made me stop in my tracks for the second time: a contorted face tilted sideways, scowling in anguish. It was a statue of a gargoyle sitting atop a low cement wall that lined someone’s front yard. I stared into the creature’s face. It exuded a look of dejection and misery that impacted me in a way that made me want nothing more than to look away. It gave me the feeling that he had something to say but was too locked up in the agony of shame and rejection to speak. He stood there, grimacing in silent agitation.
I made it back to my house and went inside, coffee in hand, my mind gyrating between the ethereal beauty of the sunset and the dejected, contemptuous gargoyle—on the same short walk, two opposing encounters. One that represented beauty, the other pain. One light, the other darkness. One love, the other shame.
This walk down the road was like a microcosm of the space we inhabit as humans, where opposites are colliding all around us. We are constantly being pulled to one pole or the other—toward our light, power, and beauty or toward the darkness, helplessness, and pain. Within this pulling polarity we live our lives, ever in the tension of opposites. Our existence happens at the frontier between physical and spiritual, heaven and earth, death and life, despair and hope, darkness and light, fear and love. We exist in a world of gargoyles and sunsets, both burning with intensity.
We exist in a world of gargoyles and sunsets, both burning with intensity.
And we feel this deeply. Many of us are very sensitive to these opposites that exist within and around us. Those of us who struggle with depression or mental illness continually battle the dark waters of emotional pain that threaten to drown us day after day. We have fought more than our fair share of contemptuous gargoyles. How often I wish them to be slain with a fiery sword.
But that walk home from the coffee shop did something else inside of me, too. The encounter with the gargoyle put me back in contact with the rejected parts of myself, those I have kept hidden away in the basement of my psyche—where they crawl around, alone and angry, with contorted looks on their faces. These are the parts of me that I have abandoned, the parts of me whose voices I have silenced.
Yet, I also remembered that inside of me resides the sunset, too. I wonder what it would look like if the two met: gargoyle meets sunset, rejection meets kindness, shame meets tenderness. My hunch is that the face of the gargoyle would be lit up by the flaming sunset, the reddish orange of the light penetrating into his sunken, glazed eyes, his body morphing out of its contortion and into a soft repose.
And he would speak for the first time.