Gloria revisited – authenticity exposed

Epiphany 4 – 2015

Mark 1:21-28

Marian Free

In the name of God who gives us freedom to stay as we are or to grow into the fullness of life. Amen.

In a different lifetime, I studied Psychology at the University of Queensland. One of my subjects was Counselling Psychology. The course introduced us to the wide variety of techniques and theories that were in vogue at the time. During one of the lectures we were shown a video of three different therapies. The client, Gloria was a real person who was to be rewarded for her participation by being allowed to choose one of the three to be her therapist. The film had such an impact that a Google search shows that the film is still being used and that as recently as 2013 Counselling tutors and others were uploading the video on their blogs.

Of the three techniques explored, by far the most direct and confrontational was that of Fritz Perls, who with his wife developed Gestalt Therapy. This form of therapy aimed to try to get hold of what was obvious, to focus on the surface, the present moment, rather all the client to retreat into the past or worry about the future. The role of the therapist was, among other things, to identify game playing and to assist the client to be authentic.

Perls’ session with Gloria was fascinating. Throughout the half hour he continually drew attention to what Gloria was doing – that fact that she smiled even though she said she was anxious, that she was swinging her feet, rolling her arms and so on. Gloria’s reaction to this was to resist. She became angry and frustrated. Instead of backing off, the therapist kept focusing on her and how she was reacting. Time after time he called her on her attempts to hide her real feelings and time after time he accused her of being phony. Gloria became very uncomfortable, at times fighting back angrily and telling the therapist not only what she thought of him, but how she thought he should behave, how he should treat her. Perls was not deterred. Instead, he encouraged Gloria to express herself, pointing out that it was when she let fly, that she was more truly herself than when she was putting on a face in order to hide her true feelings, or to protect herself from hurt.

Gloria did not appreciate being accused of being a phony, but it was very clear that she did not want Perls to see that she was vulnerable and anxious. It was equally obvious that she did not want to admit that it was her very refusal to be authentic that was the source of the problem that had brought her to therapy. She would have preferred the therapist to be more paternal rather than confronting and challenging her.

Whenever Perls challenged Gloria to recognise that she was putting on an act, Gloria reacted strongly. She didn’t like being seen for who she really was, she didn’t want to believe that she was phony and she didn’t like being exposed. She admitted that it was easier to retreat into her corner where she felt safe and secure. There was a sense that in some way she would rather stay as she was than to do the hard work that it would take to achieve her goal.

In the first century there was nothing like medical science as we know it and certainly nothing like therapy. The explanation for illness or disability of any kind tended to be that it was the result of sin or of demon possession. In today’s gospel, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when he is confronted by an unclean spirit who calls out: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” To our twenty first century ears, it seems like an odd reaction – especially given what we know of Jesus. Why would someone who was sick or possessed repel Jesus? Why would someone who was suffering think that Jesus had come to destroy and not help him?

Gloria’s story gives us some clues to the man’s reaction to Jesus. The unclean spirit apparently sensed that Jesus saw straight through him. Knowing his that his weaknesses were exposed, he like our modern day Gloria, came out fighting. The man did not want to be helped by Jesus if it meant that his vulnerabilities and weaknesses had first of all to be identified and exposed. He would rather remain bound by his afflictions than let anyone – especially not Jesus – see who he really was.

Like Gloria and the man with the unclean spirit, many of us try to conceal the aspects of ourselves that we are afraid will expose us to ridicule or disdain. We cover up our vulnerabilities and weaknesses because we worry that people would think less of us if they knew who we really were. Some of us would rather live with pain and discomfort than admit that we need help. We don’t want others to think that we can’t cope or that our families are less than perfect. We hide our uncertainties so that others can’t accuse us of being weak or indecisive.

All this deceit and self-deception is exhausting and futile. In the end, the only person whom we deceive is our self. We waste so much time pretending, when we could be expending that time living.

The gospel assures us that God loves us as and where we are, that we have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Jesus came to offer wholeness and healing, to give to each and everyone of us the opportunity to live life to the full, unfettered by anxiety, timidity or fear and unconcerned by what others might think.

In the end, we can’t hide from God, so why would we hide from ourselves? God wants to work in our lives. Jesus wants us to experience his dynamic, healing presence in our lives, but we have to want to be changed. We have r allow the Holy Spirit to work in and with us to radically transform and empower us and to bring us to wholeness and peace.

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