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Lenten Reflections: Liberation, Relief, and Redirection

'Sunrise through the clouds' photo (c) 2008, Chris Betcher - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Saturday, March 2, 2013

 Judges 17: 1-3
1 Peter 2:1-10   
Mark 5: 1-20

By Karen Mills

Jesus completed teaching  people gathered on one shore of the Sea of Galilee from aboard a boat, then crossed to the other side, where he called unclean spirits out of a terribly tortured man who lived in the region of the Gerasenes (or Gadarenes or Girgasenes).  Gerasa and Gadara were two in a group of ten cities--the Decapolis--southeast of the Sea of Galilee (now modern Jordan). These cities were deeply Greek-influenced, in contrast to the Jewish areas on the other side of the Sea. After Jesus called the demons out of the man, he asked his name. "My name is Legion, for we are many," he answered. Jesus called all the unclean spirits out of him. After that, Legion begged Jesus not to send him away from Him. But Jesus told him to go home to his friends and tell them how the Lord had compassion for him and had done great things for him, and they marveled.

Collectively or individually, sometimes we may be on the shore among the faithful, bathed in the sunshine and the word of the Lord, listening with rapt attention to the Lord's teaching.  At other times, we may be holed up in caves, on the margins of things, tortured by demons, and far away from God.  Even there, God comes to us, calls us by name, and offers compassion, cleansing, a fresh start, and new direction.  What good news!  Much as we may rejoice in that and want to simply bask in the safety and comfort that God provides, God calls and empowers us to go forth and share the good news with others, that they too, might know God.

We Presbyterians don't talk much about demons generally, or our own demons. Gerald May, M.D., served on the The Shalem Institute's staff for many years as Senior Fellow for Contemplative Theology and Psychology.  In his book Care of Mind/Care of Spirit, May wrote that evil takes many forms.

"It can occur as the theological demonic, in which something other than God becomes our ultimate concern. And, especially in the course of intentional spiritual searching, evil can surface in the form of real spiritual forces (spirits) that seek to divert and sabotage our journey towards deeper realization of God's truth and will.... Whatever its specific manifestations may be, it seems to me that evil always functions to subvert one's surrender to God, seeking to turn it into a capitulation to darkness and willfulness. Theologically, one might see that evil forces are ultimately of or at least permitted by God, but from the standpoint of human experience they clearly work to turn one's attention and intention away from God."  "[D]iscernment involves distinguishing among inclinations that may be of God, of the evil spirit, or of oneself."  "In the natural course of spiritual growth, one goes through many ups and downs."   "One may proceed a way along the spiritual path, experiencing a variety of more superficial ups and downs without being fully aware of the inner changes taking place....  At some point an awareness of this underlying process begins to take place without understanding and without bearings. ...One may feel quite literally at sea, and utterly dependent upon and abandoned to the unknown and unknowable essence of God at the helm....  It is only through grace, I feel, that we are blessed with our blindness to the totality of this process and our ignorance as to its ultimate implications.  Were it otherwise, I suspect none of us would have the courage to embark upon the journey in the first place."

As I write this meditation, our church embarks upon a reading with Emory United Methodist and Mt. Lebanon Baptist churches of James Cone's painful book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. In it, Cone calls the Christian gospel "God's message of liberation in an unredeemed and tortured world." "[H]umanity's salvation is available only through our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst." "[T]he church's most vexing problem today is how to define itself by the gospel of Jesus'  cross. Where is the gospel of Jesus revealed today? …  One can lynch a person without a rope or a tree."  Where, indeed….

God, help us to acknowledge and identify the demons that torture us, especially those of our own making, and bring them to you.  Even when we do not seek you, find us in the painful places, and draw us close to you—the only place where we may find liberation, relief, and redirection. By your grace, may we escape the bondage of our demons, and live as your redeemed people and a light to all people and nations.  Amen.                                                                               

Karen Mills is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.


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