There is a tension that every one of us carries within our souls on a daily basis. On the one hand we proclaim the truth that Our God loves each of us unconditionally and that we know this to be true because of the Good News Jesus brings to us. At the same time, however, this Good News is much easier to believe about someone else than it is to believe it completely about ourselves. We hear the liberating Word of God, and we want it for everyone else, but when we look within ourselves, we sometimes see some dark resistance from the destructive forces we house there–and, frankly, sometimes we prefer bondage and oppression to the liberation and freedom offered to us. Of course we know better, of course we want things to be different. The problem is that we hold onto these demons even as we lament that fact that we have them. The message of liberation that Jesus brings to us is more than sufficient for our needs, but we are hesitant to live it.
Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus was blessed and baptized with the Holy Spirit who proclaimed to him, You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased!” Mark contrasts this experience with stories of people who are possessed by unclean spirits, spirits that are most assuredly not telling them that they are beloved of God or God-pleasing in anyway. We know those demons all too well because we feel their presence whenever we think we’re not good enough. These demons exist within us whenever we, instead of blessing ourselves, curse instead. Rather than build ourselves up, we tear ourselves down. Rather than encouraging and loving and drawing us into relationship with others, they disparage, sow seeds of self-hate and tell us we are alone.
In almost every age of its history the Christian Church has preferred, for the sake of maintaining order and compliance, to be a bit stingy in the way it teaches the Good News about liberation and our ability to act as healing Christs in the world. The result has been a rule-oriented, control-obsessed form of Christianity, that has nothing to do with the actual teachings of Jesus Christ. Institutions have a vested interest in the studied avoidance of anything that might disturb the status quo, so it’s not surprising that the Church pushed religiosity over and above any sort of empowering spirituality. The final result has been sadly evident throughout history when, in order to maintain its influence, the various churches collaborated with whatever political ideology was in power. This is true whether we’re talking about the Byzantine Empire of the 4th century, the Frankish kings of the 9th century, or the years of accommodation with the Fascists and Nazis or the church-tolerated existence of Apartheid in the previous century. This willingness to keep the liberating Gospel of Jesus under wraps results in a lifeless spirituality that seems indistinguishable from the surrounding culture and context. And all the while the demons– both personal and institutional–appear to grow in strength and power.
We can all understand the desire to live in our own comfort zone, and any minister under contract in any denomination will tell you that they have sometimes been reluctant to speak their truth, that they have said things that they were “expected” to say, even though it violated their conscience. After all, the congregation has expectations, the Board has benchmarks and the congregation itself is encouraging and supportive—both spiritually and financially. It’s understandable because we all want to live well, we all want to live in peace, and sometimes we sacrifice core principles in order to maintain this “comfort”.
That is not, however, the way of Jesus Christ. If we observe him carefully and watch the way he preaches and heals and proclaims the Reign of God, we see that he never hesitates to speak truth. On the one hand people are initially impressed and they express delight at his teaching style which is a breath of fresh air. On the other hand, these same complimentary people will inevitably find their comfort zone challenged, and this will evoke reprisals from the shadow side, as Deepak Chopra calls it. We witnessed an example of this four years ago when Barak Obama was running for President. Along with the winds of change that were blowing full force, there was also an onslaught of hateful comments made, or more accurately, implied about him: his citizenship, his middle name, his relationship with his father’s family in Africa , his own secret belief in Islam. No pundit actually admitted that he or she would never vote for a black man; no one actually stood up to claim that Islam is an evil, anti-American religion. But the subtext was there all the same. The threat of change is always met by resistance from the shadow side; this is true in institutions and society and it is also true within our own hearts.
Hearing truth makes us all angry sometimes and that’s because truth is trying to gift us with liberation, and that is terrifying because we know instinctively that we will need to exorcise our demons in order to open up to real freedom. There is a way, I believe, of maintaining our equilibrium even as the shadow forces threaten us, and it has to do with knowing the difference between resistance and surrender.
Since we first invented cities and civilization to impress our girlfriends some ten thousand years ago, men have believed that violence is the answer, despite all evidence to the contrary. Whether we’re talking an act of violent aggression through warfare or inner resistance to the demons we carry within our hearts, the truth is the same: Resistance only strengthens the energies it attempts to oppose by giving them even more power and more energy.
Every one of us over the age of 15 knows how frustrating it is to deal with the same issue or issues over many years; we know how it feels to hang onto fear, shame, guilt and unworthiness even as we try to ignore, avoid or run away. We mistakenly believe that if we fight hard enough against our demons, we can force a solution onto our hearts. But that doesn’t usually work for us because most of the time, the more we push, the more we get pushed back. We’re trying to defeat a law of physics, so no wonder we’re not successful! It is also a metaphysical reality we’re trying to change through force: the more we resist, the more the demons persist.
Charles Fillmore has a lot to say on this subject. The demons in the Gospel parables represent error states of mind that we already realize, thanks to the light of Truth, need to be exorcised. Knowing the healing power and work of Jesus in renewing our mind and body, we see that our negative thoughts and energies have to be dealt with by the power of Spirit.
We already know that what passed for “demonic possession” in First Century Palestine would be called mental illness today, but using the term “demon” is useful for us insofar as we all carry some demons within us that we know we have to exorcise: fear, anger, jealousy, shame, unworthiness, etc… Fillmore writes that it is Christ who gives us the power to cast out these demons and purify our consciousness through the power of his own resurrection.
There are, he writes, three steps in overcoming the demons of error, and the first step is nonresistance and humility. Notice he doesn’t say to use force or try to compel change within our own minds and hearts. He knows, like I said earlier, that resistance tends to strengthen the energies it attempts to oppose by giving them power and energy. Just as important, though, is the fact that resistance keeps us from learning the truth about these demons we want exorcised. In order to understand anything, we must open our minds enough to perceive exactly from where it draws its energy, otherwise, we will fail to learn why the demons are there in the first place. And if we can’t understand how they got there, we’ll never be free of them. There is a story of a Tibetan monk who retreated to meditate in a cave only to be plagued by demons. He tried everything—chasing, fighting, hiding, wrestling, kicking—to get the demons out of his cave, but the thing that finally worked was surrender. He simply allowed them to inhabit the cave with him so he could observe them and learn about them. In short order, they disappeared never to return.
If we are to use Christ’s resurrection as a model, as Fillmore suggests, the first step is nonresistance and humility. The second step, after identifying and removing the demons is to accept the will of God for us. Only then can we move to the third and highest level, that of complete assimilation into and fulfillment of the Divine Will.
So, here is a practical application of everything we’ve looked at today. I tend to think that there are no demons that exist outside of ourselves: they are all of our own making and they exist within us because we allow them to exist. But it is also true that the things that plague and pursue us on an inner level have a way of manifesting themselves in our environment in the form of people, events, and issues that can seem to be beyond our control. They can seem otherworldly in their power and can even appear to have power to compete with all that is good, but all these external expressions are only reflections of what is going on inside ourselves. So, if the problem is an internal one, and if it’s clear that the only way to exorcise the demons is to surrender to them, then it follows logically that the place of surrender has to be within ourselves. And there we can safely surrender to the things we fear and dislike, as scary as that may sound. The two words spoken most often by Christ in the Gospels are, “Fear not!” so even as we begin that process of accepting all the grace, love, power and freedom that God offers us in Christ, we know we will be victorious. Will we encounter resistance from the shadow side as we begin to open up and surrender to the reality of the things we fear? Of course. But the more we learn to put aside our resistance and embrace surrender, the more courageous we will become and the quicker the demons will disappear.