Thursday, June 9, 2016

Year C, Proper 7, Luke 8:26-39, Do not torment me.

Name the names if you must, just do not torment me with but another promise of a cure if all you can offer is a diagnosis.  

The hardest thing is the recognition and acceptance of diseases, chronic in nature, and which allow only a promise that you can learn to live with them, manage them, but never cure them.

I am drawn to these texts about demonic possession in the bible in a different way since being diagnosed with a variety of mental health disorders.  I'm one who believes that in Jesus' day, such disorders were personified as 'demons'.  Our world view has changed.  We are less likely to personify such things.  Diseases not demons.  But by whatever name you call them, or how you personify them, the simple truth is this:  that they can take over our life in ways that our very identity with which we have lived is replaced by another whom we do not know.

Dysthymic disorder; major depression, unresponsive; suicidal  ideation; chemical dependency; chronic insomnia; post traumatic stress disorder; general anxiety disorder; bipolar disorder;-- and the list of names could go on: first tier, second tier, third tier, etc. .  Each one of those manifesting symptoms, such as manic episodes, defining the days of our lives and shaping our behaviors in ways that do not seem to be true to who we actually are, or at least who we thought we were.  Personal identity is the ultimate casualty of such suffering.  This is who I am.  Live with it.

And then comes the one who calls out the demons, naming them by name.  

And into the swine those demons go.  Ever wonder what a bipolar pig is like?

There is something missing in this text, implied but missing.  We know this man only as the Gerasene demoniac.  What is your name?  And the man said "Legion", for many were the demons that had possessed him.  What I wish were there is Jesus speaking the man's true name, and in doing so, calling forth his true identity.  


And might we add to that "David, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ, forever."

Of all the things that could be said in response to mental illness, perhaps this is the most important.  The "you" is sealed by the Holy Spirit, sealed off from the threat of all those other spirits that would seize our identity.  Sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked with the cross of Christ, our identity forever rooted in him.  

Interesting that the swine rushed down the hill, plunged into the lake, and were drowned.  I never heard a baptismal sermon preached on this text.  But there it is.  And out of the water comes a man, in his right mind, or shall I say, "righteous".  

It is dangerous for one who is mentally ill to declare oneself healed.  Many a bipolar person has experience disastrous consequences because they became convinced they were healed and ceased their medication.  The truth is that some of these diseases are chronic, they will not just go away.  But, they need not define our identity or claim our souls.

I am not my disease.  That is not my name.  I don't know who "Legion" is, but it is not me.

"David, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ, forever."

That is healing enough for me.

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