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.

Mark 9:22

“From his childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire and into water to put an end to his life; but, if you can possibly do anything, take pity on us, and help us!”

show us compassion
without control
a universal cry
a pleading S.O.S.

always presuming
there is a way beyond
our current no-way
we look for help beyond

beyond our knowledge
beyond our limits
beyond our understanding
beyond our vision

from an acceptance of good fortune
we experience dismay and depression
sharpening bargaining skills and anger
until we can no longer deny injury

compassion grants no greater knowledge
of what we do and do not understand
compassion rattles vision’s cave
leading to a larger assurance

Fairy tales have a typical pattern of threes before a resolution can be reached. This is our third recounting of the situation at hand—thrown about.

First the setup—“If”— and its desired outcome—“Help!”

This is a reprise of a voice crying in the wilderness looking for some wild blue yonder alternative universe where all tears are wiped away and angels sing in heaven all the day. “If” is a song of silence lost in possibility without a look around for the smallest probability.

The help needed goes beyond what is ordinarily available. Aid must come from the outside.

Second, a deeper travel into the wilderness brings more than food brought to a discouraged prophet running starved from a great nothingness hot on their heels. It is not just “help” that is petitioned against all odds, but a σπλαγχνισθείς (splagchnistheis, an imperative to go bowel deep to the creative mode of compassion—partnered empathy).

This compassion is an awakening in one another and all creation of our own compassion. Having accustomed ourselves to a life-long situation out of our control, we turn, even our children, into their condition. To return to compassion is the journey of places like L’Arche where those who are silenced are engaged at the level of compassion. It is the story of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

Mark 9:21

“How long has he been like this?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.

son’s father and Father’s Son
both want to know
how long have we been so ill

has it been forever
perhaps not long enough
to resolve on its own

if it has gone on forever
insurance limits passed
it is time to finally pass on

what sort of treatment
is still available
prayer experimental surrender

there is no time like the present
to assess our situation
to make a surprising choice

Having dealt with another child we might automatically add in here that this has been going on for 12 years.

It could be said that this was the child’s “life story” (LaVerdiere-250). A life story begs to be seen in a larger setting. What had been going on before they were born? What were the factors that helped bring this life into such clear focus? Did they go beyond a person to family and culture?

Presumably the parent had been as diligent as the bleeding woman in 5:26 and had also become both resigned to fate and ever more desperate to find a way clear of this pain.

Such an accumulation of years, indicating there is no use to find a change to an intolerable situation, still has a deep reservoir within—hope yet abides, even when, in every measurable way, we have given up. The question of what can be trusted is one that never goes away. Sometimes we are up to facing it down and sometimes our strength (even a strength that comes with “lovers gathered around”—listen to Pete Seeger’s song, “Old Devil Time”) is not sufficient to hear the slow grinding of the universe toward mercy and joy.

“Since forever” is such a long-felt time. There is a trap here that avoids a needed metanoia or repentance or change. We get caught so easily in four of the five options listed by Transactional Analysis as responses to difficulties: 1) stay stuck, 2) go crazy, 3) kill someone, 4) commit suicide, or 5) get better.

In every generation there are reasons aplenty to be silent about internal and communal processes that harm a spirit of seed-like growth with one poison or another. We give into the easy assessment of one or another false “original sin” that silences persistent hope.

Mark 9:20

They brought him to Jesus; but no sooner did the boy see him than the spirit threw him into convulsions; and he fell on the ground, and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.

sure enough
reports of disorganization
are true

just a glance
at people’s lives
falling apart

false promises
deepen everyone’s despair
finally revealed

it’s worse
in reality than in report
forever fires

There is a sense of distance in all that has gone before. Someone, somewhere in the crowd, claimed the source of the hubbub as a failure of the disciples to heal a child. All of the above can be seen with noisy milling about and shouting back and forth as opposed to a quiet inquiry and measured response.

If so there would not have been any interaction between Jesus and the child in question. Now we have a first contact.

We don’t know the dynamics of these “evil” spirits and their connection with one another that would lead them to know the jig is up when Jesus comes on the scene. Even if the child was not made mute, this spirit may have learned from reports of earlier healings that there is not much use in trying to call Jesus out or interact or bargain with him. The 100th Monkey model can be used negatively as well as positively.

This repeat of the child’s problem varies slightly from 9:18. This report does not include grinding teeth and withering/stiffening. We might well chalk this up to the details a parent might cascade out in presenting in an emergency room to emphasize the importance of being seen, while the clinician boils it down to the clearest diagnosis. A fit (Falling and rolling) and foaming are sufficient to bring an intervention.

These are obvious signs of not being able to engage the world around in an expected manner. Whether this is from a personal point of view in response to an internal state or a communal sign of a canary in a mine responding to a sickness within the society can be debated for a long time.

Mark is working back from a crowd having a fit and foaming at the mouth to a person and, in both cases, revealing the impotence of any who care—a double silencing.

Mark 9:19

“Faithless generation!” exclaimed Jesus. “How long must I be with you? How long must I have patience with you? Bring the boy to me.”

faith is a learnable skill
opportunity after opportunity
comes teaching and testing
what we truly trust as true
no matter what the situation suggests

faith is not currency
we play like a get-out-of-jail card
it grows from the past
pulled by a better tomorrow
out of a stuck presence

faith carries no warranty
if not completely satisfied
there is no appeal available
we can only invest the rest
until we give up trust and live

faith ebbs and flows
its presence clear then not so much
fickleness is built-in to faith
betrayal of trust too common
still we enter a next opportunity

It is helpful to put some additional language around the “answer” Jesus gives in order to have a fuller picture of his response. Is this also a sigh? An angry retort?

Additionally, does there need to be a larger break after the two frustration-based questions and the direction to bring the child to him. The word translated here as “bring” is the same as used elsewhere—the father had brought the child to the disciples or John’s head was brought, or seeds brought forth more? Is this a natural bringing forth or an ordered one?

In setting this response it needs noting that the “faithless generation” is not specifically oriented toward the disciples or crowd or parent. We are again noting both a human condition of not being aware and the reality of occupation that silences anything but compliance with a ramping up of violence.

External threats can open oneself to such a self-censorship or internal conflict that they freeze one in place. When all our excuses for not speaking up are finally recognized as faithless to our truth, we convulse or die.

How long will Jesus need to reveal a deeper reality than our typical social, political, and/or economic wilderness experience? Colloquially, “Until the cows come home!” or “Until hell freezes over!” (forgetting Dante’s frozen center of a lost paradise). Context is important to understand what it is that is believable.

Mark 9:18

and, wherever it seizes him, it dashes him down; he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth, and he is pining away. I asked your disciples to drive the spirit out, but they failed.”

here are the details
how life falls apart

power beyond our control
casts a shadow over us

we respond a-shivering
in its shaking cold grasp

with intense stammering
no swallowing foaming spittle

teeth grind our meaning
into nonsense bits of noise

finally centered in hell is darkness
we are frozen still

we came with hope now dashed
children dismissed turned away

whether they couldn’t or wouldn’t
your so-called healers are failures

How helpless the child!

How helpless the parent!

How helpless the disciples!

Not only helpless, but nigh on to hopeless!

The evocative word beyond simple description is ξηραίνω (xērainō, dry up, wither, grow rigid). This is the same word used back in 3:1 about a man with a withered hand.

In Mark repetition bears attending to. Since it is written to his readers there is opportunity here to reflect on what has dried up, withered, stiffened in our life. We may even be able to get back to the description of people who have relied on external power and developed a “stiff neck” or “hardened heart”.

Though not described in this detail, we may also remember Jairus’ daughter and the sense of helplessness that comes through that story. Or, some of the details may remind us of the Gerasene being full of power but unable to control it.

Of significance, LaVerdiere-249 recalls, “Jesus had sent the Twelve on mission with authority over unclean spirits (6:7). Summarizing their mission, the Gospel said that the Twelve drove out many demons (6:13).” So what has gone on here that their practice hasn’t borne fruit in this instance? This question is good ground for the breaking out of an argument. It doesn’t need the fleeting mention of the Scribes. It can be expected simply on the basis of different understandings among the 9 disciples left behind. A question still facing the church—What is our excuse that justifies our failure?

Mark 9:17

“Teacher,” answered a man in the crowd, “I brought my son to see you, as he has a spirit in him that makes him mute;

where have you been so long
my son is as important to me
as any religious leader’s daughter

I’ve traveled far not just waited
for you to come close to me
and where were you gone

my son my image my beloved
closes down to wilderness silence
a cold choking wind takes him away

I claim a diagnosis to soothe our minds
I demand a cure lest our hearts break
I will pay for this with my life

are we clear it is your reputation
that is on the line with inept disciples
now that you’re back don’t just stand there

A spirit that won’t brook any speaking not only has a personal aspect, as here, but a social one as well. Speech is never free, it always has a consequence.

The same hope that drives someone (mother? father?) to lead their young one to Jesus fills the whole crowd, silenced by the Romans, to see what happens here and then take it to the socio-political level as well.

This story about a child reminds us to look back at Jairus’ daughter. Those shut out of that scene are looking to get a closer peek about technique.

Ultimately there will be as much disappointment in this quest as in the previous one or at the later one with the youth in a tomb. Dealing with spirit is never able to be consolidated into a technique, it remains ever live (reading Jacques Ellul is helpful here).

Waetjen155 has a footnote that includes:

“This spirit appears to be different from the ‘unclean spirits’ or ‘demons.’ It does not cry out Jesus’ identity, as the others did. Unlike the others it may not be generated by institutional realities or systemic structures.

This opens us to seeing this story as more than a healing. The main character is the parent and may assist with the solution Jesus arrives at. As a child can reflect their parent, we could be dealing with that constriction of conscience that keeps us silent when ourselves or others are being harmed and we feel powerless.