a reflection on Luke 8:25-39
Ok. So, I have these dogs. Some of you know this because you’ve met them. On any one day I will have two, three, or four dogs, depending on whether I have just my two and or the dogs that belong to our son or daughter.
One of the dogs, the oldest of them, is prone to dreaming in her sleep. All of them will do this on occasion, but my oldest dog does it often. There she will be, day or night, sound asleep, when all of a sudden her legs will start twitching and her feet will move frenetically, like she’s running. Her voice will whimper and whine and you can tell that something is going on. Of course she can’t tell me her dream but I imagine it’s something to do with chasing rabbits or squirrels through a wide open field, something delightful.
I think restlessness, even more than the commercials we see for “restless leg syndrome,” is a real symptom of the world we live in. There’s a pervasive restlessness in people young and old. As young people we are restless to grow up. I remember the summer of 1974 when my mother and I went to visit the University I would attend in the fall. These were the days before computers and internet and online registrations. We had to take care of registration and look at housing and do what-ever else had to be done in person. One afternoon during that visit I was on my own, I can’t remember why or what my mother was doing. Anyway, I remember walking the campus and day dreaming about what my life would soon be like. Free of parents, free of home, starting a life of adventure. During that walk I bumped into a young guy who talked to me about campus life and how much he enjoyed the area. He offered to show me around and I got in his car for a tour.
Looking back now I gasp at that thought. I got into the car of a total stranger for a tour of an area I didn’t know at all. At the time, for a brief moment when we were out in the middle of the National Park that bordered this campus area I remember thinking that maybe I had made an unwise decision. But the guy my age, young and friendly, returned me safely to campus with no cause for alarm. Still. When I read about the tragedies that can happen I understand the restless excitement that would propel a young woman into dangerous decisions, even if they seem perfectly innocent at the time. Restlessness can motivate us forward but it can also have tragic consequences. More often though restlessness is subtle and covert, masked as something other than what it really is.
Our Gospel reading this morning describes some of the tragic consequences of a restless spirit manifested in the man possessed by a demon. He can’t keep his clothes on. He is driven to wander and cannot be restrained even by chains. This restless spirit is destructive to him and to those around him. He can’t focus and get his life on course. I think we can all relate to feeling this way at one time or another – unable to focus and find a direction for our lives. The man in our reading today is an extreme, but this restlessness can be more subtle, and yet still destructive.
As human beings we feel restless to get our career going, restless to buy a house, restless to marry, restless to have kids, restless to go on vacation, restless to retire and then restless to know what to do with ourselves in retirement. Lately many of us are restless with anxiety over health, oil spills, bad weather and a struggling economy. We are restless with worry over our lives and or the lives of those who know and love. There is something in the air that seems almost demonic about the times we live in.
Jesus helps us understand a bit about demonic times. There are several stories in our scripture readings about Jesus casting out demons and freeing people who have come under their control. Demons come in many forms, we all have our own demon, so to speak.
Maybe your demon is a propensity to slothfulness, you just like to go slow and do very little. Maybe your demon is self criticism and poor self esteem. Maybe your demon is working too hard and not knowing how to relax. Maybe your demon is anger or bitterness over something that has happened. Maybe your demon is greed or selfishness. Who knows? Whatever the case, we all have demons that make us restless and keep us from being who God fully desires us to be.
The demon in our reading this morning consumes the man and defocuses him from anything and everything he tries to do. The man possessed with this demon wanders constantly distracted first by one thing and then another and as a result his life is a shambles.
Carl Jung, a depth psychologist who was a student of Freud before he moved in a different direction and formed his own branch of psychology, says that each of us is born with an innate desire for God. He says It’s as if we each have within us this empty hole that yearns to be filled over the course of our lives. We don’t know this, at least not consciously, but the “hole” desires to be filled with God. Often though we humans, conscious of an emptiness but not sure what to do with it, try to fill that hole with other things – food, alcohol, work…This hole, this empty place inside manifests as cravings and yearning and, well, like a demon can pull us away from God and toward the temptations of this world. Ultimately that empty place will not be satisfied no matter how much we fill it with stuff until we learn to fill it with God.
The man possessed with demons shows us this. He is endlessly unsatisfied. That is until he meets Jesus.
When Jesus becomes the focus of our lives, when Jesus lives within us, in a truly deep way, the emptiness that Jung speaks about is filled and there is less room for our demons to take hold or keep hold of our lives. I don’t know exactly how this works. It’s something like we hear in scripture reading this morning; Jesus sees our torment and acts to relieve us of it. It’s an act of compassion, of love, of grace. It’s offered to us but it also requires us to accept it when offered. And it’s not just a gift of compassion, it’s an invitation into a relationship. This relationship, like any other asks both parties to participate in growing the relationship. We have a responsibility to nurture our relationship with Jesus.
So, accepting this gift of love and compassion, offered by Christ, and entering into a relationship with Christ, can change our lives even when it doesn’t change the circumstances of our lives. Like the man in our Gospel reading, everything in his life was the same: he still lived in the same town, knew the same people, everything was the same except his inner sense of self. When he focused on Jesus and nurtured that relationship he was changed on the inside, filled with a sense of peace and a renewed sense of self.
That may not seem like a lot, that one changes inside. At first glance it may eem like my dog dreaming of chasing rabbits, an illusion. But actually it’s everything. Changing on the inside affects how we see ourselves and the world around us. Changing on the inside can mean the difference between being focused on hope or the death of hope; lost to our demons, lost to our illusions. Focused on Christ the gaping hole inside is filled, we find our direction and purpose of life itself.