Demons in face of Salvation ©
by Rev. Jim Ryan, email@example.com
Seasonal change has come again. This one is that of reduced light and increased dark. This one is that of bringing in the harvest now that Spring’s sowing and Summer’s growing has proven productive. This one is of moving indoors – snow is not far off. This one is of the return of ancestors long dead, of those recently passed but not quite gone, of spirits who tip teacups off the mantle and who blow out fires in the hearth. And, yes, this season is of spirits and demons – both the kindly and the abhorrent ones – who at other times of the year are kept submerged, repressed, or otherwise allowed to roam freely across the land.
This, in Celtic lore, is the thinnest of times, of worlds colliding. This is Samhain, the mid-point between fall equinox and winter solstice. This is the festival of the final harvest, Samhain (pronounced sah-wen), thinnest of times, when who we meet may or may not be alive on this earth but who nevertheless is quite real. Some just want to dance. Some bring with them memories and accusations we would just as soon forget.
This festival must be celebrated, endured, and come out the other side of – a festival of honesty and hopefulness for what else will get us through winter’s darkness? Here is how we Christians of Celtic life and lore get through it. We face it come what may. We reach through the dark. We claim the light that thins and breaks through.
In line with a particularly effective practice – also ancient – I will expropriate pagan customs and apply them here for Christian uses. As in having a direct, one might say, a comfortable conversation with the spirits and the demons. Or also as in struggling personally from within on the matter of personal demons.
When dealing with demons on this inward journey of introspection it seems to me that we first confront those demons that are an agitation to us. You know the ones – the “second-thought” demons that I would take back if I really did have a second-thought; the “Oh, I wish I hadn’t said that to (fill in the Name)” demon; or the “I’m such a hypocrite” demon; or the “I say one thing but really think otherwise” demon. These aggravating demons – let’s call them the persistent demons – seem to come and go in their regularity. But they are demons nonetheless and the attempts to rid ourselves of them fuel the Self-Help industry.
“Do you want to lose that hypocrisy and gain honesty? Well, here’s just the book that will free you of that agitation! And for only $19.95 at Amazon.”
Beyond and deeper than these persistent demons are the demons that lodge themselves in our personal dark. They take up residence. These are the demons that take hold and will not let go. These demons make us collapse into ourselves.
The Anglo-Irish painter, Francis Bacon (1909-1992) – pretty much a pagan himself – created a series of self-portraits painted between the late 60s and the early 70s. These self-portraits revealed much about demons that perpetuate the internal dark of a person’s very soul. You can view several of Bacon’s self-portraits at:
In writing about one self-portrait a critic said one can see even at the surface the revealing of the artist’s “self-accusatory demons.” These perpetual demons – these worst ones of the inner dark – these grabbers that will not let go – these demons are the self-accusatory ones. And we, like the spiritual writers who tell us about them – such that by their writing we confirm that we are thusly demonized – we are bereft and cannot turn to a light that is always promised but never seen.
Now comes along the blind beggar in today’s Gospel passage from Mark (10:46-52). One could say that this blindness is allegorical. It is representative of the blindness in my psyche and my soul, the soul which houses my self-accusatory demons. All I can do is beg, “Jesus, let me see.”
Jesus heals the blindness and says to the beggar, “Your faith has been your salvation.” This is a precious line that Jesus says. It is also a line that is too often trivialized. What prevents this line from simply being an iconic example of pedantic blather? This could be babble – but for the one whose demons are more deeply and internally lodged than as if they propelled themselves downward to the ocean floor. How does an affirmation of faith leading to salvation not become itemized on a top-ten favorites list of Jesus Sayings? How is Jesus’ assurance real?
It is real for the person whose demon control is internally imploded. It is real, or can be, for the person who always hears the promise but never has the experience of hope. It is real for the person who, like the person in recovery, admits powerlessness over the demon and who becomes open to the pull from others of such a hope.
“Your faith is your salvation.”
“Believe in yourself, and when you cannot we will believe for you.”
We who hear this message as an expulsion of demons – not as faith-healers, but as faith sharers – we recognize salvation in gathering with others in faith. We who proclaim wholeness and reject disintegration share the Word of Salvation with each other, feed on that sharing, nourish ourselves on Eucharistic bread and wine, food and drink for the journey. This is Jesus whom we see by faithful vision.
So, this thin time of colliding worlds, of inwardly struggling with our demons, and of awaiting winter’s onset – this is the time of spirits all about. It is Samhain for the Celts, Halloween for the goblins, All Saints/All Souls for the followers of Jesus.
Blessed be – in a self-portrait of faith.
At harvest time we feast and celebrate,
for we gather on the edge of Winter’s shadow.
All the seed that was sown in Springtime past
has long been reaped;
the fields stand barren and empty.
The spirit shall soon turn inward.
The world’s fabric grows thin and souls of the dead
pass by on their way to eternity.
Bless their passing, for though to some it seems an ending,
this exodus of spirit foreshadows new beginnings.
Heavenly One, we see your care, your passage to light,
your gift of life.