It is the anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. Rosean and I believe that he didn’t leave us entirely when he passed away. He seems to visit us with little love notes from time to time — messages in the call of a bird, in certain flowers or objects thrown in our path that remind us of him — messages of encouragement, appreciation, even warning.
I have experienced this with other of loved ones who’ve died as well. So have many people I talk with. This leads me, this morning, to muse. What if the passage of death doesn’t mean that we withdraw from the world into a different realm but rather that we move more deeply into this world, becoming a more aware part of everything — every cell, every breath, every heartbeat? After all, if we rest in the bosom of God when we die, we would be here, right here, and everywhere else as well — fully.
Anybody who has felt the soul-crushing experience of having friends and relatives “pray away the gay” in them knows how terribly mistakenly trying to cast out unclean spirits can be. What we think of as an unclean spirit most often is a part of who God created us to be. It is the societies in which we live that usually dictate what will be viewed as healthy — not God. God speaks through each one of us, uniquely. Poets and artists know this. Non-binary folk know this. People with mental illnesses that are the result of brain chemistry and genetics, not of unclean things that can be cast out of them, also know this. Jesus knew that the unclean spirit in the man who confronted him in today’s Gospel lesson needed to come out. But that’s not something I would feel in the least bit sure about without a whole lot of discernment and prayer, if it were me.
Imagine moving toward rather than away from all that you fear, all that is strange, all that you don’t understand. Imagine having the sure knowledge that in the core of you, where you rest in the presence of God, there is room for you to appreciate how others think and feel, what makes them tick, what they fear. Imagine participating with God in the vast story of life, not only on this little planet we inhabit but throughout the entire cosmos. Imagine.
Projecting evil onto others and then hoping that what we have imagined about them is an unclean spirit that can be somehow cast out of them is a way of pulling back and away from our neighbors. They become not quite human to us when we do this.
What would it be like to move toward them instead? What would it be like to imagine being as much a part of them as we are of God? What would we understand if we could have even one microscopic bit of that grand comprehension?
As Jelaluddin Rumi has it,
“I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence, the lift,
and the falling away. What is, and what isn’t.
You who know Jelaluddin, You the one in all,
say who I am. Say I am You.”