Our deepest liberation can set a city free.
A few years ago, when my kids were a bit younger, the movie Frozen would often be playing in my house. As kids often do, they liked to enjoy the same story again and again. I must have watched it several times myself. And sitting there watching it with my children I was drawn in. A girl called Elsa has a magical ability: she can magically create ice and snow, sending it streaming from her fingertips. And for this she is judged to be dangerous – a danger to her little sister, a danger to anyone around her. So she is locked away in her room and hidden away from everyone else in the city.
But the magical power couldn’t be contained forever. Eventually the magic breaks free, and Elsa breaks free – all the people of the city learn the truth, and Elsa runs away. She realises that she cannot live with people anymore, so she runs away into a wilderness area that is barely habitable and lives alone in a castle made of ice. She feels a great sense of relief at having broken free. But all is not well. In the break between Elsa and the city, the city is cast into perpetual winter. The city is oppressed by a never-ending icy winter, and no one knows how to fix it, not even Elsa.
While I watched the movie, I didn’t protest that magic isn’t real. I accepted the story on its own terms and followed the flow of the narrative.
I think a lot about stories. I was reminded of that story this week, as I reread a story in scripture about a certain man who had something in him, some kind of force, a seemingly supernatural force, that possibly made him a danger to himself or to others. And so the people of the city feared him and tried to shut him away. But he couldn’t be contained. He broke free of the city and dwelt alone in uninhabited places.
In the story, the forces inside him are demons, or unclean spirits. He isn’t named in the story. He is simply identified as a man from the city, the man with the unclean spirits.
In this story, he has moved from the centre to the edges. He was one of the people called the Gerasenes, and lived in the region where the Gerasenes live. He lived in the centre, in the city of the Gerasenes, but the unclean spirits have driven him out to the uninhabited places.
He has moved from living in the city to living in the wild. And he has moved from dwelling in a house to dwelling in the tombs – the place where they put dead people.
So on the one hand, he is living on the edges because he dwells in a wild place, outside of human community.
On the other hand, he is on the edges because he dwells in the place of the dead, outside the living human community.
In a way, he has broken free from the city and the people who tried to contain him.
But everything is not right.
Yet there, on the edges, he is met by a man who has a name.
Jesus had been to the edges before.
This man from the region of the Galilaeans had gone to be baptised in the Jordan River. Then the Holy Spirit had filled Jesus and led him out of human community, to spend some time on the edges. There in the wilderness, on the outside, Jesus was able to reflect and to learn. And the perspective he gained there he brought back with him, when he entered again into the centres of human civilisation.
Now this Galilaean has again left the centre. He has left the region of the Galilaeans, crossing the dangerous waters now to set foot in a wilderness place in the region of the Gerasenes.
And there they meet: the man led to the edges by the Holy Spirit, and the man driven to the edges by unclean spirits. And in that meeting a man is freed from his demons.
So what does he do now? Can he now return to the centre?
But … what if his demons were the spirits of that place, the darker side of that human community? What if it was something about that human community that caused his suffering, and got into him, and began oppressing him from the inside? What if he felt the darker side of that place more than others did, and visibly suffered from the dark side of that place in a way that others didn’t? Perhaps his continued existence in that place was uncomfortable and threatening.
Still, Jesus sends him home. But not just to fit in. Not just to adapt himself to the negative dimensions of the human community.
He returns home to proclaim what has happened, the freedom that was given to him.
And perhaps the city will hear and respond. This is our hope. Because the greater freedom only comes when the city can change – when it changes in response to the one who has felt its darker side.
I think that sometimes I have been led by the Holy Spirit from the centre to the edges, to reflect and view things differently.
And sometimes I have been driven out by my demons.
And sometimes I have been part of the city that someone else had to leave.
And that’s why I appreciate the movie that I used to watch with my kids. In that story, Elsa gains freedom from the city, but the greater freedom comes when she is able to return to the city and be part of it in a new way. In that way, the city itself is set free. So whoever we are in the story, the proclamation of freedom is for us, too. Ω
Reflect: Where do you see yourself in this story? What internalized demons do you need liberation from? Who has rejected you? Who needs to hear your proclamation of freedom?
A reflection by Joel Rothman on Luke 8:26-39 given to Sanctuary on 19 June 2022 © Sanctuary 2022 (Year C Proper 42). Photo by Manuel bonadeo on Unsplash.
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