They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching--with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. -Mark 1:21-28
Pseudo-Dionysius taught that demons come from their source as Good. However, "They are evil insofar as they have fallen away from the virtues proper to them. They have changed in the domain of what was permanent in them. A weakness has appeared in the angelic perfection suitable to them." He could be writing about me.
"The central thing," writes William Loader, "is enabling people to be how God made them to be." But I am "possessed" by all kinds of distractions from my true self, as is my culture (meditation one). The Desert Mothers and Fathers, who knew lots about not only demons but the true self, counsel awareness (meditation two). Liberation comes by confronting the demons and embracing the true self, but also creating sacred spaces for necessary encounters with truth (meditation three).
From my true self to yours, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) being possessed I have a nagging hunch that the gospel’s power in our own time is about to be manifested in a manner as repugnant to the sensibilities of the society at large, and all of us who have accommodated ourselves to it, as the early Christian message was to Roman paganism. Our society is possessed, Christians as much as anyone. We are possessed by violence, possessed by sex, possessed by money, possessed by drugs. We need to recover forms of collective exorcism as effective as was the early Christian baptism’s renunciation of "the devil and all his works."
-Walter Wink Engaging the Powers
Miscellany 1 authority and authenticity
What the Fathers sought most of all was their own true self, in Christ. And in order to do this, they had to reject completely the false, formal self, fabricated under social compulsion in "the world." ...
The simple men who lived their lives out to a good old age among the rocks and sands only did so because they had come into the desert to be themselves, their ordinary selves, and to forget a world that divided them from themselves. …
We cannot do exactly what they did. But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break all spiritual chains, and cast off the domination of alien compulsions, and to find our true selves, to discover and develop our inalienable spiritual liberty and use it to build, on earth, the Kingdom of God.
-Thomas Merton 1915-1968 The Wisdom of the Desert (opening essay)
Miscellany 2 On The Demons
And as for the demons, the Good is their source and the fact of their existence is itself good. They are evil insofar as they have fallen away from the virtues proper to them. They have changed in the domain of what was permanent in them. A weakness has appeared in the angelic perfection suitable to them. They too desire the Good, at least to the extent that they have a wish for existence, for life, and for understanding, and their desire for what has no being is proportionate to their lack of desire for the Good. Indeed this latter is not so much a desire as sin against real desire.
-Pseudo-Dionysius late 5th to early 6th century The Divine Names trans. Colm Luibheid
Scenes from the Life of St. Francis, Giotto, 1297-99, detail
Exorcism in the synagogue, Limbourg Brothers
Meditation Two (insight) eyes open
Another of the elders said: When the eyes of an ox or mule are covered, then he goes round and round turning the mill wheel: but if his eyes are uncovered he will not go around in the circle of the mill wheel. So too the devil if he manages to cover the eyes of a man, he can humiliate him in every sin. But if that man's eyes are not closed, he can easily escape from the devil.
-The Wisdom of the Desert Thomas Merton (trans. and ed.)
Meditation Three (integration) helping each other create space
The kingdom of God in Mark is good news because it brings liberation at a number of levels. The central thing is enabling people to be how God made them to be. That must involve addressing powers and gods that enslave. The more we understand how they work, the richer our understanding of redemption.... ...Mark leaves us in no doubt about what constituted good news in his world, what the kingdom means, what happens when the Spirit ‘baptises’ people. The last thing Mark wants is for us or our congregations to be left behind when we encounter his opening scene. One of the skills of the pastor is to create the space, the ‘synagogue’, where our madness can come face to face with the holiness of Jesus. That also means coming to terms with our own madness.
The Last Word Desire nothing but God: seek for nothing but God: and you shall taste of peace: you shall taste it in defiance of the world.
-Francois Fenelon (1651-1715) Pious Reflections, The Seventeenth Day
detail, The Temptation of Anthony, Bernardino Parenzano, c. 1494
I always feel sorry for the demons in these stories. In Sunday's Gospel, the demon recognizes Jesus. "I know who you are, Holy One of God." And the demon realizes his danger. “Have you come to destroy us?” Both these insights endear me to the demon. After all, no one else seems to recognize him as the Holy One of God, or so clearly perceive the danger inherent in letting Jesus, the Light, into their lives.
But why feel sorry for the demons? Pseudo-Dionysius helps me here: And as for the demons, the Good is their source and the fact of their existence is itself good. They are evil insofar as they have fallen away from the virtues proper to them. They have changed in the domain of what was permanent in them. A weakness has appeared in the angelic perfection suitable to them. They too desire the Good, at least to the extent that they have a wish for existence, for life, and for understanding, and their desire for what has no being is proportionate to their lack of desire for the Good. Indeed this latter is not so much a desire as sin against real desire.
I appreciate the demons because their dilemma is so like mine. All my life I've been trying to desire the Good even beyond the “wish for existence, for life, and for understanding.” But I, too, keep falling from the virtues proper to me.
The demons don't want to change. They don't want to be healed. But by resisting the divine in them they take others as hostages, denying them their own divinity, like the poor man in the synagogue. “A cage went in search of a bird,” wrote Franz Kafka in his diaries. It's time for the cage to move on.