C. S. Lewis and Shame

In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis said re shame:

Don’t you remember on earth there were things too hot to touch with you finger but you could drink them alright? Shame is like that. If you will attempt it—if you will drink the cup to the bottom—you will find it very nourishing; but try to do anything else with it and it scalds.

This made me think of the Richard Rohr observation which I recently shared, “I look daily for some little humiliation in my life.” He explained that he did this as it reflected an opportunity to address an occasion of his ego rearing its ugly head.

I think that Lewis and Rohr realize/realized the role that shame plays in spirituality. Its presence, when not addressed and acknowledged, leads to profound ugliness and even brutality in the spiritual world. But, addressed and acknowledged, embraced if you will, provides an opportunity to draw a little closer to one’s Source. For, I intuitively know that shame lies at the core of our identity and we have to tippy-toe into it as we approach that core. And, I might add it behooves us to have someone holding our hand as we begin to tippy-toe into it—perhaps a pastor, a therapist, a friend, or a spouse.

But we must avoid the easy way out which is to cling to dogma, those “well worn words and ready phrases” (Conrad Aiken) which insulate us from any real, human/spiritual experience. We must go beyond the shell of the words, the “letter of the law”, and get into the Spirit.

One last thought on this note. Twenty years ago John Bradshaw was in the self-help vanguard with a series of books on the family. In one of them he noted that in his clinical work he felt that shame was the core issue with a lot of deep seated issues, that often there were high-falutin diagnoses which could merely be explained in terms of “shame-based” behavior and emotions. My own clinical work confirms this. We are often dealing only with deep-seated shame which binds the individual and will continue to do so until it is gradually, gently, and graciously brought to the fore and experienced and then processed.


9 thoughts on “C. S. Lewis and Shame

  1. Pingback: introspection, courage, and shame « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  2. Bill

    In my experience, shame is mostly used to throw at others to scald them. Personally, to feel shame for no cause is a waste, and to feel shame for a cause is a waste also becasue it’s better to focus on correcting that which causes us to feel ashamed.


  3. Rebecca Hamilton

    This is an interesting post. Frankly, I don’t think too highly of Mr Rohr’s idea. Life gives us all the humiliation we need, without looking for it or manufacturing it. The trick is learning to accept it, learn from it and grow in grace and a healthy — as opposed to a negative and damaging — humility because of it.



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