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Casting Out Demons

Luke 13:31-35 and Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening By Cynthia Bourgeault

Sunday March 13th, 2022

By Nicole M. Lamarche

Good morning and welcome again to this second Sunday in Lent, you’ve managed to spring forward!

It’s wonderful to be with you! And we create some sacred space here to listen more deeply together and to tune into ourselves, to Spirit, to the birdsongs and the sounds of sharing life with other humans, I invite you to take a deep breath and to let yourself arrive more fully, to listen to your heartbeat, to your breath and to give thanks for the chance to worship together in all of the ways that we are. Gracious God, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

"Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons…”

That’s what Jesus says when he hears that some of the religious leaders nearby wanted to kill him. Go tell them I am casting out demons.

I hear that as more like… Go tell them that I am all about naming what is real. Go tell them I am not afraid of discomfort. Go tell them I am not going away.

Go tell them I am casting out demons.

And with all that is going on in the world, with the presence of tyrants and terror, with all that feels wrong around us, what do we make of demons, of the concept, of their presence right here and now?

The word demon occurs over 60 times in the Christian scriptures. The likely dominant Greek view in the First Century was that demons were “fundamentally the spirits of the departed” and they were often blamed for tragic events in nature and in life.

According to Homer in Greek Mythology and later, the concept of a demon is “used mainly in the sense of a performer of more or less unexpected, and intrusive, events in human life.” The Gods and Olympians, could be referred to as daimŏnĕs.

A demon was seen not as a human, but as something like a supernatural power- unpredictable, anonymous, but often appearing in manifestations that are frightening.

And later demons came to be seen as more like ones ‘personal protecting spirits,’ accompanying each person and bringing either good things or bad. Then centuries later, some in the Jesus movement came to see demons as the full and true nature of the pagan gods: the embodiment and source of what they called evil and sin. I guess they really needed theological cover for taking over pagan holidays!

The concept of demons also seems to have been a placeholder for all that was yet to be understood, before science and modern views of things like post-traumatic stress or neuro-diversity, the label of demon, it seems, for categories of behaviors they couldn’t explain.

So like many things in our sacred text, it’s hard to know for sure exactly what Jesus meant, but etymologically speaking, the word demon at its core means ‘divider.’

So with all that is going on, what do we make of demons, of the concept of their presence right here and now?

I have been pondering this quite a bit and I am wondering whether a demon is really anything that splits us off from our true self? Maybe a demon is what separates us from love? When we are acting from our shadow selves?

I am thinking of it this way because the core of the word, the root of demon, is divider. And it would make sense if part of Jesus’ main ministry was being about healing those inner splits and curing the divides between our true and false selves, helping us humans to navigate the space between who we feel called to be and who we are in our shadows.

As we have been sharing, our theme for Lent is Journeying Into New Stories and last week we talked about how part of the way we get to the place of being able to live into new stories, is by paying attention when something isn’t working, it’s about listening to our bodies, to our minds, tuning into our hearts, our communities, it’s about surrender- being willing to let go, being willing to call on a Higher Power, a Deeper Love, being willing to give thanks to stories that served us and then releasing them when they no longer do.

And today, I am wondering if part of how we live into new stories is also by knowing our shadow sides, by knowing our triggers, by seeing ourselves fully and rightly as we are? I am wondering if part of what Jesus meant by demons was what we would now call the forces of the false self?

The false self are those parts of us that are contracting and fearful, the parts of us that can love only conditionally, those parts of us that are controlling or self-righteous. All of these things are on Dr. Charles L. Whitfield’s official list of the characteristics of our false selves. These and how our false selves forget our oneness and feel separate, they act out unconscious often painful patterns again and again. Our false selves pretend to be strong.

Jesus says, you have heard it like this or seen it like that, but I say to you, let us live like this: cast all of that out and fear not, to welcome love, expand, give, grow, accept, trust, surrender, Jesus says, in weakness, there is power and might.

As we heard from the work of Cynthia Bourgeault, our false self is made up of “a set of protective behaviors driven at root by a sense of need and lack.”

The false self is comprised of our artificial personas that each of us create, often early in our human development in order to protect ourselves. Our false selves are in one way as Niall McKeever writes, “defensive façades… behaviors learned and controlled rather than spontaneous and genuine.”

So what if when we read that Jesus was going around casting out demons and performing cures, we are reading about Jesus’ commitment to healing the divides, not just out there in the world, not just reconciling and renewing communities and all of creation, but helping us to reconcile the splits that are inside each of us, here? Reconciling our shadow parts in our life?

What if “casting out demons” is a First Century way of saying that part of our spiritual journey should be about healing our splits between our true and false selves? Between our true and false selves? What if Jesus was simply naming the shadows he saw and calling them out?

In the 1950’s Carl Jung coined the concept of the shadow self and he wrote, “The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”

So what if this is part of our spiritual journey too? Becoming conscious of our shadows, the parts of ourselves that take us further from who we feel called to be? What if part of how we live into new stories about ourselves is, knowing our shadow sides, being able to see ourselves fully and rightly as we are?

As I shared last week, one of the stories I have had to put down is that strength is pushing through pain and carrying on no matter what and instead I am living a new story about how courage and grit can come from softness and slowing down, from paying attention and sometimes even stopping. This story from my false self, aiming for a perfect something that would never come, is my shadow side trying to never allow disappointment to enter in. But this creates splits and anger because this is impossible if you are living with any depth or to have true relationships without imperfection. If this story was the guiding story, life would be so much more incomplete. I have learned through work with the Enneagram that as a 1, my false self, my shadow side is as Richard Rohr writes is “hyper-sensitive to anything we perceive as wrong. Hence we become critical, judgmental, and moralistic.” He goes on to say that 1’s “are even more critical of ourselves than we are of everything else. Our root sin is anger or resentment—resentment that things are not the way they should be. We’re perfectionists, and we’re never satisfied with what we could always improve…”

It wasn’t until I could see this part of myself, could call out this shadow, it wasn’t until I could name this demon, so to speak, that I could start to ensure it wasn’t the one guiding me. Because if we act like our false selves aren’t present, if we don’t know our shadows, they can sneak their way in, and they can begin to whisper stories, stories about us and the world that aren’t true. Our demons can hold us back and we don’t even know it!

The fox that Jesus is referring to in this story is believed to be Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and we know that Herod and Jesus had two very different views for the world here. And when I read this story now it seems like the tale of the false and true selves.

One of them was saying, contract and be afraid, share your love with just your kind, control as much as you can, prove you are right. Forget your oneness and show your separateness and superiority, and whatever you do, pretend to be strong.

While the other one of them says, cast out the demons of power and profit from oppression, let go of security and success, be free from separation and disconnection, fear not now or ever, love unconditionally, expand, give, grow, accept, trust, surrender, don’t withhold- so that inside and out, there is enough, in weakness, there is power and strength, remember our oneness.

Do you see your shadows? Do you know them? Are you friends with the,? Where are the places where you might be driven by your demons, your false-self stories of scarcity or inadequacy? What if part of how we live into new stories is by knowing our shadow sides and by seeing ourselves fully and rightly as we are?

Beloved of God, let us dare to name what is real and see things within us. Let us cast out our demons, let us not be afraid of discomfort, let us remain with what is hard and know our shadows to stay on our way, to new stories! May it be so! Amen.

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