Posts Tagged ‘exorcism’

Gloria revisited – authenticity exposed

January 31, 2015

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.


Accepting Difference

June 22, 2013

Pentecost 5 – 2013

Luke 8:26-29

Marian Free 

In the name of God whose love embraces all God’s creation. Amen.

There is an extraordinary story of a boy (now a young man) who lives in Fiji. His name is Sujit and his story is difficult to piece together. It appears that he may have been born with slight cerebral palsy and epilepsy. His father was murdered and his mother committed suicide. When Sujit was given to the care of his grandfather at two years old he was locked in a chicken coop (possibly because he was thought to be demon-possessed). Not surprisingly, the child developed behaviours not unlike those of the chickens with whom he spent so much time. At age eight, having been found on a road, he was consigned to an aged care home, where his behaviour was so disturbing and difficult to manage that for the next twenty-two years he was tied to a bed. No attempt was made to change his behaviour or to offer any kind of nurture. He was left to his own devices and his chicken like behaviour was allowed to continue without any intervention.

Elizabeth Clayton, an Australian living in Fiji came across Surit when she visited the care facility to deliver some plastic dining tables. He was filthy and covered in sores. Elizabeth felt she had no choice but to get him out of there and to provide the care that was so badly lacking. Even then at around age 26, the young man still clucked like a chicken, clawed at his food and didn’t know how to walk, let alone speak. His fingers still turn inward like claws, he understands only a minimum of speech and is not toilet trained.

As awful as this story sounds it is not unique. Out of ignorance or despair, many parents and institutions resort to what appear to be harsh and unnecessary forms of control for children whose behaviour they do not understand or cannot manage. In China today for example, there is no support for parents of children who are autistic. When such children exhibit violent or self-harming behaviour, parents feel that they have no option but to restrain the child – for the child’s safety as well as their own. With little knowledge and no help, these parents can only do their best to keep their children safe. Even if they want to, without support, they are unable to help the child to develop and to live a relatively normal life.

Our failure to understand difference has meant that even until quite recent times those with mental illness or disability were shut up or isolated from the mainstream of society. In many cases those who suffered from mental illness were feared and misunderstood. Not many people knew how to interact with them or considered that they might possibly have something to contribute to society. As a society we are still unable or unwilling to provide the support to families or individuals who do not fit the so-called norm.

In the first century the situation was no better and probably worse. Medical knowledge was extremely basic and demon possession was seen as the cause of many medical conditions which are understood quite differently today. From the New Testament accounts we surmise that conditions attributed to evil spirits or demon possession would have include mental illness and epilepsy to mention. Depending on the nature of the condition, family and friends would have resorted to a variety of treatments and forms of care – exorcism was a popular treatment.

In today’s gospel, we meet a man who is bound by chains among the tombs. In this case there are no clues to help us to understand what his condition might be in today’s terms. We simply know that according to those who knew him, the condition was so severe that he was believed to be possessed by a multitude of demons (Legion). Whatever is troubling the man it gave him such strength that he could not be managed. His behaviour was so intolerable and frightening to those around him that not only was he bound, but he was confined in a place as far away as possible from everyone.

It is shocking to think that people who through no fault of their own are violent and distressed are not only excluded from our presence but bound both by their condition and by the ties that others impose on them. Thankfully research and public education has reduced our fear of those with mental illness and of those who are differently abled. Our education system no longer excludes those who require additional support and we are challenged by the brilliance of such people as Stephen Hawking to reconsider our stereotyping and prejudices. Psychology and Psychiatry have made great strides in understanding not only what goes on in the mind, but how to treat mental illness and to enable sufferers to hold down jobs and to contribute to society in a wide variety of ways. Technology has made it possible for mute to communicate, the deaf to hear and the paralysed to contribute to society.

Jesus is not afraid of the man with the demons, nor does he see any reason not to intervene (despite the reluctance of the demons). He restores the man to his right mind and to his rightful place in the community. More than that, Jesus gives the man a responsibility – he is to be the bearer of the gospel to those among whom he lives. The outsider becomes the insider, the rejected becomes the accepted and the one who was excluded becomes the one chosen and commissioned by Jesus to share the gospel.

In a world that is uncomfortable with difference and which seeks the comfort of conformity, Jesus teaches us that love, compassion and understanding can transform the lives of those who were previously misunderstood, mistreated and excluded. We are challenged by Jesus’ example to create a society that is welcoming, empowering and inclusive of all God’s creation – no matter their race, their gender, their faith, their sexuality or their ability.


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