Unbearable burdens

Daily Reading for August 22

The practice of exorcism by rituals and prayers was common in the ancient world, among Jews, pagans, and Christians alike. Today we are blessed to have other means of treating the physical and mental ailments that our ancestors termed “possession.” But I doubt that this is the whole story; I suspect that exorcism still has a place in our lives. Who has not felt the sudden lifting of what had seemed an unbearable burden, the removal of what for too long had been an unsurmountable obstacle? Who does not have something deep within that they would not wish to exorcise, so that it no longer casts a shadow on their capacity to receive and give love? . . .

When I think of the demons I need to exorcise, I have to look elsewhere; inward, to my heart and soul. Anger is my best demon, useful whenever I have to go into a Woman Warrior mode, harmful when I use it to gratify myself, either in self-justification, or to deny my fears. My husband, who has a much sweeter nature than I, once told me that my mean streak grieved him not just because of the pain it caused him but because it was doing me harm. His remark, as wise as that of any desert abba, felt like an exorcism. Not that my temptation to anger was magically gone, but I was called to pay closer attention to something that badly needed attention, and that was hurting our marriage. It confirmed my understanding of marriage as a holy act: one can no more hide one’s true faults from a spouse than from God, and in exorcising the demon of anger, that which could kill is converted, transformed into that which can heal.

From “Exorcism” in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books, 1998).

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