He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain…..Day night among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance he ran and bowed before him;; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me?…….
There are two ways in which people can reveal some of their innermost thoughts in public on the streets of our towns and cities. Most of them are talking on their mobile phones, scattering personal information around to anyone who happens to be passing. The others are just muttering aloud as they walk past, or sit next to you on the bus – these we tend to label a bit ‘mad’. We wouldn’t say they were possessed by a demon but that’s what folk in Jesus’ day thought. He encounters such a person in this chapter: self harming and not just muttering but howling and shouting: a danger to himself and others.
Remember, the Gospels are not biographies. Here in this episode Mark, as usual, gives us a skilfully woven narrative, but let’s not assume that these things happened exactly in this way on one day in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Instant healing of a seriously disturbed person? Possible, no doubt. Miracles, as they say, do happen. But suppose the ‘demoniac’ as some versions label him, was not that different from me?
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”
So many voices clamouring in his head! Well……there can be quite a racket going on in my head too: voices accusing me of not being good enough; muttering, ‘just look at him, he’s a disgrace’; ‘oh my god I’m going to be late’; going over an encounter I’ve just had with someone and ‘giving them a piece of my mind’; ‘I’m no good at this’; ‘I don’t want to be here in this boring crowd’; and so on and so on. Of course I am ‘civilised’ enough not to let any of this babble be heard by those around me.
Now, I am also fortunate enough to have caught a glimpse of a much deeper truth about who I am. Underneath the mental clamour is the vast, silent, stillness and presence that we call God. Once I have sensed that deep truth, that loving, graceful, accepting Presence, it becomes possible for me to keep returning to it. The more I learn to practice getting in touch with those depths, the more the clamour in my head subsides to be replaced by a loving awareness not only of who I am but of everyone else too.
A small charity called The Prison Phoenix Trust teaches prisoners to meditate and do yoga; to turn their prison cells into, you might say, monastic cells. Its quarterly newsletter publishes moving letters from inmates describing their journey from self harming and the racket in their heads to the discovery of the spacious peace from which flows the healing that they need to move on in the recovery process that will set them free even while serving the remainder of their prison sentence. For most of us healing is a gradual process like this. We remain wounded human beings but underneath there is wholeness.
Was the ‘demoniac’ in Mark’s story healed instantly? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter whether or not such a miracle of healing happened. What lots of us do know however is that healing encounters happen, whether through meeting someone, or reading something, or in some other way in which Presence catches our attention and gives us a sense of who we truly are.