Mark 9:30

Leaving that place, Jesus and his disciples went on their way through Galilee; but he did not wish anyone to know it,

travel for travel’s sake
carries an internal wilderness
perpetually on retreat

new sites and sights
bring insights
unrealized ’til now

first awkward rhythms
add their energy
to walk a new path

a surprising cuisine
extends an already wide table
storing stories for another time

even time slips surly bonds
making more precious still
unusually usual moments

like a shadow too bright
everywhere as nowhere
this time lingers

This transition gives opportunity to review the import of Galilee in Mark’s Story. Eventually Galilee will be where the story comes together beyond the story (16:7) and we are able to meet Jesus again for the first time (reading Marcus Borg is helpful here).

In Chapter 1, Galilee is where Jesus comes from before we have baptism and repentance and changed lives (1:9). After Baptizer John’s arrest, it is where Jesus first takes the same good news with which he was baptized (1:14).

It was in Galilee that the first disciples were called to join this baptismal message (1:16). Note that these calls occurred while Jesus was just passing through Galilee and now a specific teaching about an end to their discipleship will round out their call.

The work of Jesus in teaching his disciples spilled into the region and news was spreading about Jesus, if not “good news” (1:28). At this point the focus is on healings in Galilee (1:39). This has echoes as people from Galilee travel to other places to witness additional healings and exorcisms (3:7).

Leading citizens of Galilee are complicit in Herod’s failures foreshadowing Jesus’ hometown failure and death in Jerusalem (6:21).

Most recently Galilee is a pivot point in Jesus’ journeys (7: 31).

Galilee will then become a promised land (14:28), present at his death through women from Galilee (15:41), and a place for a new call (16:7).

Here, Galilee is a Disciples’ Retreat to clarify the consequence of living compassion in the midst of Empire, Power and Vanity.

Mark 9:29

“A spirit of this kind,” he said, “can be driven out only by prayer.” 

prayer prayer
you think
we forgot
to pray

no way
we used
your words
exactly true

well drawls Jimmy Jesus
words are the least of prayer
they are but echoes
of a lived connection

did I pray or not
with direct address and command
here’s your next assignment
learn to pray without prayer

of course
prayless prayer
requires presence
beyond results

Earlier we proposed that Jesus’ command to the spirit of muteness was a prayer. Now it is important to look past the surface to questions about prayer being less formal than spoken or cast more widely.

Was prayer a whole constellation of being that then surfaces in words? What was missing in what Philippians 2:5 calls the “mind of Christ”. Without a consciousness of this “mind” or “being”, unformed prayer that goes beyond intention is not able to coalesce.

Many commentators identify the request of the parent to help their “unbelief” as the prayer referred to here.

This connects faith and its organization as a catalyst in healings. There have been prior examples of the faith of another being an important component of healing.

Faith and prayer are just ambiguous enough to have us think we know what they are and can mobilize them to get our way.

Myers115 is helpful about unbelief not being “incorrect doctrine”:

For Mark, unbelief is the despair that is dictated to us by the powers and principalities of this world. Unbelief is a life script that is fixed and says to us that nothing can really change. If we accept this life script and the despair that comes with it, the revolutionary vision and practice of the gospel are rendered impotent.
Prayer for Mark is that personal and communal struggle against this temptation to despair. It is wrestling with the demons within us that tempts us to abandon the way of Jesus. Prayer is naming and casting out the demons that silence us and make us docile before the status quo of self and society.

Mark 9:28

When Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

we did everything by the book
textus receptus to the letter
it has always worked before

now that we won’t be embarrassed
we sweetly ask
what the hell went wrong

our notes are in order
our intentions unhurried
ivory-soap pure

check our equations
they rebalance dystopia
toward Paradise Extended

so this won’t happen again
what’s this secret ingredient
you forgot to mention

In typical Markan fashion, there is a public event and a private extrapolation of it for the disciples and readers. This is still a common process where our public failure is examined in private with those we trust.

A review is helpful to check off where things went awry.

The disciples were authorized to go out two-by-two to cast out demons. Here we had nine disciples. Check plus.

The disciples have practiced casting out demons and Jesus marveled at their ability. Check. Confidence, present.

The disciples ran through their exorcism check-list and did their work from the least intrusive method to their most energetic. Check. No technique was left untried.

Was there some environmental aspect that heretofore has gone unnoticed. Was it the doubt of the Scribes? Was it the unbelief of the parent? Was it something about the crowd? Was this a new demon that didn’t understand it was weaker than it pretended to be?

As readers we are also curious about this failure. We wonder, “Might it have something to do with hospitality or humility? After all, the practicum of the disciples took place with them receiving hospitality and the humility to not look to better themselves through gifts of healing. Was it their being if not their doing that was getting in the way? Had they started to argue amongst themselves when it became obvious that their work wasn’t working?

It would be expected that the disciples had tried to wrestle this one out on the way to their way-house. Like the joke about male drivers who are lost, asking was a last resort.

Mark 9:27

But Jesus took his hand, and lifted him; and he stood up.

passivity amidst opportunity
no long-term strategy
for anything but disappointment

where trapped by a lingering past
with no horizon in sight
we sleep and sleep again

volition exhausted
astral projection sputtering
we are in space alone

a hand is given who knew
fractured assurance coalesces
a hand is taken who knows

lift pirouette lifted
a hero’s journey continues
after a daunting trial

The “prayer” addressed the spirit of muteness, the fear that keeps us silent, the anger that stops our tongue, the impotence that shuts us down.

The “hand” addresses the person. All the way through this story care is shown on a one-to-one basis. The parent has been working in the background for years and is still engaged by bringing the child where they hope a difference will be made. The healer reaches to touch, to hold, to aid in bringing them to their feet.

Here we are reminded of the external world that so impacts our life. It may be a “spirit” working directly or a “spirit-of-the-age” that works on whole systems within which we live and move and have being. This external presence needs dealing with.

Regardless of the setting in which we find ourself there is an internal reality as well as an external. This can be bolstered while under the influence of the social, political, economic forces battling their way for control. Should an oppression suddenly cease and we find our struggle against it so consuming that we become unbalanced when aggression is removed, a hand to reorient is quite needed.

When the tables have been turned it is never easy to find a growth spot still available to us. We have invested so much in dealing with repressive realities that we keep trying whatever resistance we were able to muster in a new situation that doesn’t need our defensive maneuverings. We just need to stand in our new life for a little to get the lay of the land again and to get back to putting one foot in front of another and string together one word and a next and next.

We sometimes talk about keeping a main thing the main thing. Here we need to keep two main things: a prayer and a hand.

Mark 9:26

With a loud cry the spirit threw the boy into repeated convulsions, and then came out from him. The boy looked like a corpse, so that most of them said that he was dead.

being born again
is terribly difficult
is a fearful making
of every thing a nothing
emptied unto death

we were a nobody
a pawn in another’s whim
their meaning gone
leaves us limp
unable to rise to the occasion

might as well be dead
burned at the stake
drowned in a witch’s chair
are far easier
than this stillness

all directions open
but no clear first step
on which to pin
a next life’s journey
after occupation

We have been focusing on the parent and their “faith”. Finally, Jesus prays for the child.

Too often we see prayer as a fix-it for some situation, not remembering that prayer is process before it is repentance and reparation—that often things get darker before a dawn.

There are many different ways that lives are convulsed. In recent days addiction is an expected situation in which friends and family would pray. It is not unusual for such prayer to lead first to deeper difficulties, convulsions, even moments of death. The same is true of addicted nations when leaders and corporations posing as people can’t look anywhere but to their own profit through a too easy justification that their betterment will automatically lead to others being better off. Generosity does not blossom when telling that sort of falsity to itself.

Jesus prays and the result is death. This is a deepening of a teaching about prayer. Seemingly the disciples had not caught a larger picture of prayer than Pray-and-Heal. It is the easy connection of starting and finish lines that catches our attention. But this is not much of a race when a false start brings us back to the same line and, having passed it once to start finds us crossing it again to finish what was so poorly begun. We are beginning to see a difficulty with anything that is turned into a technique. We then begin to find all manner of justifications for why prayer didn’t work in particular cases. It must be a lack of faith on someone’s part or god has a larger plan or teaching in mind or . . . .

Prayer peels away our excuses and leaves us closer to reality.

Mark 9:25

But, when Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly collecting, he rebuked the foul spirit, “Deaf and dumb spirit, it is I who command you. Come out from him and never enter him again.”

it’s show time
in no time flat
wilderness retreat turns
a crowded-around test

we’ve made our claim
extravagant as it seems
and been called on it
time for a big voice

loudness brings out harshness
no second chance
no bargaining
out damned spot

not only out
but away
never to return
that’s that

If prayer is needed for this healing, Jesus prays in a scolding, rebuking tone—“Come out! Go away!” This is not, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray….”

Myers112 says this is the first of three invitations to pray in Mark:

One is after his dramatic Temple action, when he urges the disciples to believe in the possibility of a world free of the exploitative Temple-state (11:23–25). The Other is just before Jesus is seized by security forces, when he summons his followers to prayer as a way of “staying awake” to the Way of the cross (14:32–42).

Myers goes on to claim:

This episode suggests that prayer is the contemplative discipline of self-knowledge—an invitation to examine the roots of our impotence. If we wish to cast out this demon we must engage in the difficult process of confronting the illusions that paralyze us and the unconscious power of repressed trauma that keeps us silent.

Finally Myers115 leads us to: “deepen our prayer life in order to follow him, he is calling us to develop a spirituality of social action.” Different contexts, individuals and communities help us: “explore and develop a prayer life that empowers…public discipleship.”

Given the deep requirement for order that every “principality and power” demands, public discipleship will seem as crude and rebukeful as the harshness of this prayer. Accusations and consequences will follow this model of prayer that will lead to choices of trust. Galston154 is important here: “Religion remains fundamentally community centered, and in this respect it remains counter-intuitive in a libertarian age.”—Common Good v. Individual Freedom. Pray well.

Mark 9:23

“Why say ‘possibly’?” Jesus replied.“Everything is possible for one who has faith.”

in the face of possibilities
do the faith thing
trust your choice
proceed apace

be not dismayed
when faith fails
given the number of choices
and those that can be made

faith is but a facet
a gateway to decision
wherein action and reaction
have a loosened connection

like hope in an unseen way
to arrive at a desired destination
faith keeps possibilities in play
even after they have passed

More clearly we might hear, “Jesus responded, ‘Regarding your question, “If, I can do anything?”, all things are possible for the one who trusts.”

And we are thrown back into the mystery of the locus of belief, faith, or trust (choose the term you are least comfortable with to test your assumptions).

Where is the presumption of action?

On Jesus? If so, why was he limited in healing in his hometown.

On the Parent? If so, how are they different from Jairus. How are they similar to the friends bringing a helpless man on a mat and lowering him through a roof?

On the Disciples? If so, is it as simple as they weren’t authorized to continue healing outside Jesus’ supervision? Only when they have enough hours in will they be authorized to set up their own practice?

On the Crowd? If so, can one person’s lack of trust disable everyone else’s desire? What percentage of doubters can be bargained for and still have an effective healing?

On the Reader? If so, have you read enough yet to engage your partnership with Jesus or is this still a story happening only to others? Could The Neverending Story have been written without alternating scenes of Bastian, the reader of the Neverending Story, and Bastian, the hero in the Story itself? At what point does a story step outside its bounds, break its fourth wall, suspend our disbelief, to become our story? Another way of asking this is, “What Fairy Tale is your story?”

The Neverending Story and Princess Bride are stories of wishes that Mark would have named πιστεύντι (faith/belief/trust). What do you wish with more than all your heart? Here lies a possibility seed.