Monday, May 17, 2010

Living with our Demons

Yesterday, at my ELCA church, my pastor preached on Acts 16:16-34, the passage where Paul is irritated by the fortune telling, demon-possessed slave girl who follows them around, hollering for people to pay attention to them, and then after he heals her, he's thrown in jail, there's an earthquake, and he saves the jailer's whole family. It's an interesting juxtaposition of stories; why does the jailer merit Paul's attention, but the slave girl doesn't? Our pastor used it as a call to us to remember that we have all sorts of opportunities to share the Good News, and that the best way to do that is by slowing down and taking time to be with people.

I continue to ponder the poor slave girl, who now won't be very valuable since she can't tell fortunes anymore. I wonder if Paul's irritation stemmed from her class and gender. But I keep coming back to the demon possession, and my own experiences with people who aren't quite balanced.

It's hard to establish a relationship with the demon possessed.

Unfortunately, it's easy to live in intimacy with our own demons. We may not even see them as demons. We might miss them if they leave.

I think of Mary Magdalene, said to be possessed of seven demons (or was this a later character assassination?). I wonder if she missed those demons. Were they good company?

When I was young, we were taught that the demon possessed in the Bible probably suffered from mental illnesses, and since people back then didn't have our education, they explained the mental illness with the idea of demon possession. I've since met plenty of educated people who believe in literal demon possession. I tend to go with the mental illness explanation.

I know people who are generally med compliant, but who miss aspects of their mental illness: the manic highs, the ability to blaze with energy, the kooky ways of seeing the world. I think of that slave girl who doesn't warrant Paul's time. I think of all the ways I'm rushing through my life, too busy for those who irritate me, too busy for true intimacy that comes when we live in community. My own demon: that irritating feeling of always having too much to do in too little time, that feeling of being stretched too thin, and thus, I'm not of much use to anyone.

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