Someone once said, “The greatest possible thing that could happen to you would be to have your worst sins broadcast on the 5 o’clock news.” In theory, maybe. But in practice?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to read Jesus’ promise that “all darkness will be brought to light” as, well, ominous. Who wants their petty gossip, their private thoughts, and deep wounds brought to the light of day? This passage, though, makes sense of it. A classic depiction of the Law at work in the human psyche, the American poet Robert Bly shows us the immense toll of the “long bag we drag,” thereby inviting us to consider how Jesus’ promise here means sweet relief. 

When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360-degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is like a living globe of energy. We had a ball of energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball. They said things like: “Can’t you be still?“ or “It isn’t nice to try and kill your brother.” Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag. By the time we go to school our bag is quite large. Then our teachers have their say: “Good children don’t get angry over such little thing.” So we take our anger and put it in the bag. By the time my brother and I were twelve in Madison, Minnesota, we were known as “the nice Bly boys.” Our bags were already a mile long. 

As Bly tells it, the bag-stuffing continues through grade school with our teachers, then high school with our peers, all the way up into our twenties, when there’s not much left that isn’t “stuffed.” 

I maintain that out of a round globe of energy the twenty-year-old ends up with a slice. We’ll imagine a man who has a thin slice left—the rest is in the bag—and we’ll imagine that he meets a woman; let’s say they are both twenty-four. She has a thin, elegant slice left. They join each other in a ceremony, and this union of two slices is called marriage. Even together the two do not make up one person! Marriage when the bag is large entails loneliness during the honeymoon for that very reason. Of course we all lie about it. “How is your honeymoon?” “Wonderful, how’s yours?” 

We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put into the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again. Sometimes retrieving them feels impossible, as if the bag were sealed. Suppose the bag remains sealed—what happens then? A great nineteenth-century story has an idea about that. One night Robert Louis Stevenson woke up and told his wife a bit of a dream he’d just had. She urged him to write it down; he did, and it became “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The nice side of the personality become, in our idealistic culture, nicer and nicer. The Western man may be a liberal doctor, for example, always thinking about the good of others. Morally and ethically he is wonderful. But the substance in the bag takes on a personality of its own; it can’t be ignored. The story says that the substance locked in the bag appears one day, somewhere else in the city…