This little piggie went to market.
This little piggie stayed home.
This little piggie ate roast beef.
This little piggie had none.
And this whole herd of piggies went wee, wee, weeeeeeeeee.... SPLASH!! Gurgle, gurgle!
OK, that's not exactly how the story goes in Luke's gospel. But the herd of pigs, filled with the demons that Jesus released from a man named Legion, racing off a cliff and drowning themselves is just too bizarre an image to overlook!
This is not one of the stories they tease out of the Scriptures to share in Sunday School.
Of interest to me was that I wasn't as fixated on the drowned pigs or the aftermath with the swineherds begging Jesus to "Please, leave. Now!" What caught my attention this time around in the story was the description of Legion. He has gone for a long time without wearing clothes and he lived "among the tombs." And the part that really stood out:
"...he was kept under guard and bound with chains
and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the
wilds."--Luke 8: 29b
He is naked, and shackled, and the thoughts raging inside him are tormenting him. And along comes Jesus who confronts the man wrestling against whatever it is in his brain and his body. After driving the demons out of this man and into the pigs, Legion is restored to his right mind. He wants to follow Jesus on his journeys, but instead, Jesus sends him back to his home town with instructions to tell everyone what good has been done for him.
For those reading the story of Elijah out of the First Book of Kings, this is a little bit like what happens to our hero, the prophet Elijah, who is on the run from Jezebel. He is at the end of his rope and he lies down under the broom tree to die. Ah, but then an angel of the Lord wakes him up, and encourages him to eat. There just happens to be a cake baked on hot stones and a jug of water. He does this a couple of times which gives him enough strength to go on... not back to confront Jezebel, but to a cave. Here, the Lord poses the question, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" And Elijah tells of his zeal for God, and because of that, he's basically a marked man with his people. God has him stand on Mount Horeb, where the Lord will pass by. There's fire, and earthquakes, and wind. None of those noisy disturbances contain God. But it is in the silence after all that upheaval that the Lord comes to Elijah. And again, the question is, "What are you doing here?" He repeats his fears of what will happen to him because he's made himself an enemy of Jezebel. And God tells him to go back.
These two stories, with their themes of one shackled and one on the run in fear, are eerily familiar. I had said to my spiritual director this past week, that I don't know what shackles me and prevents me from going forward with following my call. But, imagining all the demons running around in Legion's head, or the fear of confrontation that sent Elijah off into the wilderness after eating his cake, seems fitting for my circumstances these days. I have tons of thoughts, excuses, really, for why I am putting off moving forward. I have lots of "I'll do it, but after I've done..." In my heart, I know none of my excuses hold any real weight. And in that way, I'm no different than those who said to Jesus they'd follow him, "But first, let me bury my father..." My spiritual director has become fond of the question, "What are you waiting for?" And now, she has added another one: "What are you afraid of?" Both of those sound a lot like God saying to Elijah, "Dude: why are you in a cave?" And Elijah's answers sound an awful lot like my internal monologue: 'Yes, God, I want to follow you, and I desire to do what you ask. But what if...' And then, litany begins from there starting with "What if I am making a terrible mistake?" I can create more obstacles to my own progress than I know what to do with. I don't think I'm unique in having that gift. I think there are plenty of us who are being called to respond in ways that take us beyond our comfort zones, and rather than do as we feel ourselves called, we find ways to procrastinate or otherwise avoid the calling. Elijah shows us how regular ol' human we are in that way.
Recognizing the nagging doubt that raises its many voices in my head and contributes greatly to the fear that shackles and keeps me down, I also know that my cake and jug of water reside in the prayer practices taught to me by those who have taken the time to be guides and companions on this bizarro journey. Andrew Harvey's book, "Son of Man," finishes with several prayer practices one can engage in to further open the heart and then, like upward falling dominos, release more light up the chakra chain to the crown, or 7th, chakra. The more each of us engage in some form of prayer practice, the more we drive "the demons" out into the wilderness. Or the herd of pigs on a hillside. And then, we are in our right mind.
God be in my head, and in my understanding
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking; ;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and in my departing.
Hymn #694, 1982 Hymnal