Our scripture passage this week recounts the story of a man possessed by a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20). He lived on the outskirts of town, near the tombs– which were likely caves where the community buried their dead. Nothing could contain him and he roamed these caves and the surrounding mountain crags, cutting himself with stones and howling night and day.
Have you ever felt tortured in a cave of many voices?
I sometimes retreat there in the aftermath of conflict with family or friends, especially if I suspect someone is mad at me or I feel guilty about a misstep or ashamed by my own vulnerability. Looking for relief I hide in my head, which turns out to be an echo chamber with no easy outlet.
Hours and days can pass with me in this place: running different scenarios in my mind. What if I say this, or do that. Will it all be better? Will they hear what I need? Can I get some relief?
This is a cave filled with death and decay.
The irony is that I go there hoping to lick my wounds and instead find myself hurting and trapped. In times like these I look at my bookshelves with dismay. I scan the titles with hungry eyes hoping for a guide to show me the way out. “What is the mantra that unlocks me from this pain?” I ask my books by Thich Nhat Hahn. “Screw you!” —I say in my mind to the book about mindfulness. (I don’t know how to be mindful here, and I resent it.)
Healing is different than licking wounds, it turns out. And I’m not sure that we can heal ourselves from the outside in or lead ourselves out of the cave of many voices when we are haunted by the demons within.
But there are some things that can ease the suffering while we are there.*
For starters, get comfortable. Recognize that we cannot will ourselves out of this cave. Instead, put the demons on a starvation diet. You may not be able to control them, but you can at least limit the amount of emotional food and drink you offer.
For these demons thrive on anxiety—especially fears about social status, intimacy, and our likeability. Couple this anxiety with a sense of shame about feeling it—and you are really trapped.
Instead, remember that most if not all of us log some hours in this cave from time to time so have compassion for yourself if you end up there again. Instead of shame, surrender to the experience and look those demons in the eye and ask, “What do you have to teach me?”
Now I recognize that it might be risky to invite an unclean spirit to be your tutor. But honestly so many of the demons that torture us are constructions of our false self. And if we engage them, without shame or fear, they lose their hold on us.
Choosing to sit there on the floor of the cave, and to not hide or run or try to push our way out is a moment of courageous surrender. And it is in and through this time of deep release that we can often first detect the subtle movement of air on our cheek: the wind which we follow to find our way out.
Lent is an invitation to acknowledge the suffering that is part of the human experience.
It is also a good time to be with other people.
Join us Sunday as we speak of the cave of many voices and listen for the wind.
Peace to you,
*informed by Father Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs.
They came to the region near Gerasa, on the other side of the lake. And when he had disembarked, immediately a person with an unclean spirit met them. The possessed one lived among the tombs and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. In fact, shackles and fetters had been used as restraints to no avail. No one had proved strong enough to subdue the demoniac. The sufferer would use stones to gash the flesh, howling day and night among the tombs and the mountain crags without interruption.
Catching sight of Jesus, the bedeviled one ran up and bowed down to Jesus, but then started shrieking in a loud voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Firstborn of the Most High God? Swear by God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had been saying, “Come out of this person, unclean spirit!” “What is your name?” Jesus asked. “My name is Legion, for there are many of us,” was the reply. And the possessed one begged Jesus not to send them all out of the area. Now there was a large herd of pigs feeding on the mountainside, and the unclean spirits begged Jesus, “Send us to the pigs so we can enter them.” Jesus gave them permission. And with that, the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand went rushing down he cliff into the lake, and there they were drowned.
The swineherds ran off and reported this in the town and in the countryside, and the people came to see what really had happened. As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the one who had been possessed sitting fully clothed and perfectly sane. And they were filled with fear. The spectators explained what had happened to the possessed person, and told the townspeople about the pigs. Then the crowd began to implore Jesus to leave their district. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the one who had been healed came up and begged to be allowed to go with him. Jesus answered, “Go home to your people and tell them what our God has done for you.” So the former demoniac went off and proceeded to proclaim through the Ten Cities what Jesus had done. Everyone was amazed at what they heard.
Readings and Discussions at 10 AM in the lounge. Facilitated by Stephanie Wyatt & Adam DJ Brett
April 3-Understanding why we post-moderns are as we are with help from Jaime Clark-Soles
April 10-Why the Old Testament and Jesus’ Jewish identity really matter according to Amy-Jill Levine
April 17-Prayers and meditations from our own Jann Aldredge-Clanton as we go into Holy Week
We will have copies of the articles for the upcoming week with us each week, or save us printing costs and receive the whole packet by emailing Adam (email@example.com).