Mark 5:5

Night and day alike, he was continually shrieking in the tombs and among the hills, and cutting himself with stones.

self-abuse is self-limiting
self-limitation is not a therapy
awareness too periodic
evasions too plentiful

whether pre- or post-Freudian
dealing with demons or ego
is mostly a failing proposition
insight and exorcism insufficiently systemic

warfare advancing one trench at a time
in a time of arbitrary drones
protects personal proclivities
from multi-disciplinary interventions

wilderness abandoned
reveals not wilderness
but our own wilderness
multi-layered abandonment

When, day-in and day-out (24/7), we find ourselves powerless in the face of captivity by an overwhelming external or internalized oppression we admit it and start on a new way of living.

Before this recog­ni­tion we are likely to cut ourself off from ourself and others—literally as well as figuratively.

A tomb is an apt image for such personal and social dislocation.

To the reigning structures, this behavior is evidence of an individual bad apple rather than a signifier of something seriously wrong with the mechanisms of social ranking not effectively challenged by the majority who go along with the latest façade of power. A result is a bitter cycle of fewer resources going to fewer people leading to more need that is even less capable of being affected by tinkering with welfare formulas. In fact this behavior validates those in power.

We have reached here a self-defeat of powerlessness and a confirmation that there is nothing that can be done to help some people. Missing here is a picture of healthy partnerships among people of varying gifts and needs. The complexity here justifies a cutting through the confusions and living by the externalizing desires of status and power.

As we deal with this representative of all the lost who have accepted anti-shadow projections received from those with power over others, it will be important to listen to a response that doesn’t determine, ahead of time, a preferred methodology of healing. This important moment needs more reflection than a reliance on faith.

Mark 5:4

for, though he had many times been left secured with fetters and chains, he had snapped the chains and broken the fetters to pieces, and no one could master him.

external control brings revolutionary fervor
freedom is a foretaste of heaven
until freedom tries to control freedom
in which case it is hell for all

no one is strong enough to avoid revolt
against their strongest strength
no one is wise enough to avoid questions
of their most cogent and beautiful aphorism

from coaxing day and clay forward
to forcibly exiling a step out of line
to invincibly guarding life’s sustainability
journeys need joining not ending

Binding another, hand and foot, means they are an official “nobody”. We do that with official slavery by violence. We also do it in more subtle ways such as wages. People are enslaved by way of whips and fountain pens.

In addition to our usual expectation of someone needing a straitjacket because they are “mad”, be sure to factor in sheer anger at being dismissed. “Control”, here, may be read as “Silence”. Given the ways in which Jesus has asked for those healed to be silent about their new life situation, Jesus, here, is about to unsilence someone. With references to both military and industrial/economic (mega-swinery) oppressions, we might wonder if we need an up-dated loosing of complaints about structural slavery in our time and place.

It is labels like “mad”, “crazy”, “liberal”, “unrealistic”, and the like that are used to control/silence whistle-blowers and others recognizing pain and waste. Those, like Socrates and Jesus, who use questions and parables are always open to charges of corrupting the young and vulnerable when we are obviously in the best of all possible systems—for those in charge.

At some point “toughness” runs out of toughness. The falsity of violence and its avoidance becomes evident enough that sufficient mini-resistances are accumulated and Empires, Institutions, Corporations crack and eventually crumble. This is a potential transition from the way power works to the way mercy gambols within and between lives. A faint unchained melody reaches the edges of consciousness through a variety of Ways and clarifies through actual experiences beyond creedal expressions—good news worth a changed life.

Mark 5:3

and who made his home in the tombs. No one had ever been able to secure him, even with a chain;

restraints are never a long-term solution
they deeply chafe the soul
adding torture outside to that inside
multiplying wilderness by wilderness
pitting strength against strength
blocking a flow of communal compassion
the very substance of we
drains faster than it can be filled
again and again the smoothest way
exaggerates the smallest of bumps

When we live by the chain we are threated by those who are able to break our chains.

The death which occurs to those who do the binding is worse than ironic, it is karmic.

The values by which chains are forged have been compromised by the promise of power and eternity. This “city set on a hill” will always shine. This is the appeal of “collective narcissism”. Being part of a bigger team that can impose its will on a lesser team, weaker citizen, denigrated human, gives evidence that we will always prevail. Of course this runs counter to the need to expend so much defending current privileges with ever lessening resources. Eventually these lines cross and it is time for the makers of chain to be in chains.

Because the consequences are delayed for those who first shave corners of communal values and, later, the closer those delayed consequences come the more they are dismissed as inconceivable, course correction is always decades too late.

As grass will come up through cement, so chains will be broken.

The more a G*D (by any name) is empowered above all and promises of Heaven (by any name) are touted, the more a religion (by any name) or nation (by any name) or in-group (by any name) defines itself by not being a loser like (any scapegoat name here)—the more the grave to which others are sent will erupt.

While collective healing eventuates in individual healing, it is a most difficult and misunderstood route to travel. However the truth of the other way around, individual healing leading to collective healing, has even less to stand on.

There is more at play here than individual madness. This is a critical event revealing the military/economic/religious trinity that so disadvantages those deemed expendable by those trying for an expansion of their resources to provide an extension of power and ease.

Reducing people to nothings brings uncontrollable rage.

Mark 5:2

and, as soon as Jesus had got out of the boat, he met a man coming out of the tombs, who was under the power of a foul spirit,

zombie attacks are all the rage
whichever way we turn tombs
vomit forth those dead to me
pushed in my face
unavoidable as suffering

intaken and held breath
focuses our reptilian brain
like calls to like
will we lose our brain
will they gain Paradise Rest

all too soon a confrontation
at best we are down sixty forty
if we pit strength against strength
so we simply stand loose
and shake out compassion

with nothing to go on but integrity
expectations are slowly released
a surprising smile comes unbidden
as we envision our own clean tomb
and offer a bottle of Pine-Sol®

Much takes place in boats. Begin to vision earth as a boat sailing among the stars.

The church has seen itself as a boat on but not of the world.

Boats have been places of refuge (Noah and his Ark), of calling, of teaching, and of going to another side. To remain in a boat provides some degree of separation from “chaos”. To leave such boats is to enter into a dangerous world of creation and all the variety that entails.

Sure enough, leave a boat and we have to deal with more than our own internals; we are face-to-face with more than can be reasonably dealt with.

On shore we find ourselves between a devil and a sea—either deep wilderness or exactly the place to learn from wilderness.

It is on a shore—wherever separations, divisions, and their accompanying fears are found—that we find that liminal space where mystics can never say more than they know, only less. In that less we are faced with choices along a continuum from “follow” to “betray”.

When we simply set out for that greener pasture or the other side, we know there are going to be moments like this one. The not knowing works us up. Thankfully we are now out of the realm of every nasty option and facing the one before us. This we can deal with from our practice of compassion, mercy, and reservoir of belovedness. We may even transform it into a Parable or Paradise.

Mark 5:1

They came to the other side of the sea – the region of the Gerasenes;

happenstance or planning
offers an encounter
with very otherly anothers
otherwise quite avoidable

in either case a choice
offers itself about response
to accent smell fashion sense
since we’re used to our own

might beauty shine through
offering a point of contact
in an otherwise alien land
bearing all our fear of wilderness

it is here where we’re away
a gift of travel offers
its mirror to our usual soul
opportunity for guest hospitality

With various texts and spellings, it is difficult to pin the setting down to a general area. Pompey had taken this area in 63 BCE and it is a place of Roman strength. Retired army veterans have land given them. This is also a land that was an early adopter of Jesus’ Way sending participants to early councils such as those moved to Seleucia and Chalcedon.

This difficulty of location opens options of seeing this as a midrash on Exodus 23:28. Levine/Brettler note the Hebrew word “gerash” (expel) is used in some accounts of nations being driven out of their lands that the Israelites might take their place. Given the Roman presence, what follows is a deeply political commentary.

In addition to reading backward, we are able to compare the external occupation of the land by the Romans with a corresponding internal occupation of economic peonage to satisfy the privileges of a privileged class.

Myers asks his readers to:

Imagine our nation as a single living organism, with many parts. This organism bears the characteristics of the demon-possessed man (mightily self-destructive, out of control, isolated from community, living among the tombs, howling).

Myers continues by asking people to note the headlines all around them and to ask:

Are we as a people possessed? Who is crying out for deliverance? When the liberating power of God approaches, do they ‘beg the power of liberation to leave their neighborhood’ (5:17)?

How clear are you about present internal/external occupations?

Mark 4:41

But they were struck with great awe, and said to one another, “Who can this be that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

we marvel at that outside
our frame of reference
without wondering what it has to do
within systems of habit and desire

this externalization of questions
protects us from following too quickly
where a new thought or emotion
would pull and push us instead

by the time we have polled each other
metaphoric wind and sea are significant
awe fear wonder fade from view
wilderness again protected us from us

The disciples evi­dence the same amaze­ment as those who witnessed healings, the besting of legalists at their own game, and evocative stories.

Up to this point the disciples could be relatively cool. Following Jesus on his rounds and taking notes has been informative.

When it came to their skin being in the game, things changed. This sounds very familiar of our own engagement with our Hesitation (timidity) and Hope (trust)—try your own language for the exercise suggested for the previous verse.

This question of “Who?” is one that will continue through Mark. It is a question to be asked not only of Jesus, but ourselves. Who have we been? Who are we now? Who are we becoming?

Perkins notes, “Beginning with Jesus’ move onto a boat to teach in 4:1, the sea provides the fixed geographical location for the narrative world in Mark’s Gospel through 8:26.” Then, with Peter’s confession, “the question of Jesus’ identity shifts to the cross.”

The deep of watery chaos and the deep of dark death are important wilderness markers that bring us to a sense of urgency to make sense of our life and the lives (animate and inanimate) around us. Mark’s hurry-up and look-back keep us unsettled enough to crack our usual belief structures that we might suspend our disbelief long enough to move beyond astonishment and awe to identification with a larger identity.

Eventually our partnership will not be based on doings such as healing by word and touch, rhetorical victory, or nature spectacle, but on a state of being that floats on chaos and dives into death with a joy able to transform Joy into Mercy and Empire into Community.

Mark 4:40

“Why are you so timid?” he exclaimed.  “Have you no faith yet?”

after a storm we assess
what’s the damage
what’s a first task
how might we better prepare
how long will it take to recoup
who’s fault was it
who did the heroic
where does this leave us
where do we head from here
when will it be safe enough to trust
when can we laugh about this

after a storm we forget
the labor of survival
the challenge of protecting love
the pervasiveness of despair
the intersections of harm
the utter loss of trust

after a storm we choose
doubling down on pre-storm stasis
setting up a next muddling through
opening to a fresh breeze

An all too easy read of this has us turning the sense of these two verses (39 and 40) around so that when Jesus is awakened he asks his question about their fright, stands up, flexes his muscles and declaims, “Watch this. QUIET!”

Then we could get to the awe of verse 41 to wrap things up. Hooray for Jesus!!

δειλοί, (deiloi, “Frightened”) is a question of timidity. Apprentice Jesuses have so lost it that they forgot to ask Jesus for a miracle. It is recorded that Jesus just does as Jesus does. This lack of asking for what is needed is as good a definition of a bunch of Mr. Milquetoasts as we are going to get. Timidity, thou art us.

A question of “Faith” brings us back to trust (πίστιν, pistin). The issue of trust is larger than a simple choice of trusting G*D or trusting Jesus. It entails an actual decision and living that out. There are plenty of experiences along the way that indicate we can’t trust our own thinking, much less that of others. This question of trust is a question of discipleship or actual practice of a series of steps intended to arrive at a desired destination. It is here that Buddha’s Path is clearer than Jesus’ Way. The two are related but appeal to different parts of My Journey.

Timidity and Trust assist us in evaluating how we are doing with a changed head and heart. They help clarify one another.

Exercise: Draw a Venn Diagram of Timidity and Trust in your life at the present time. After reflecting on it a bit, draw another of where you would like to be in a week. Repeat weekly until you have reached a helpful balance.

Mark 4:39

Jesus rose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea,  “Hush! Be still!” Then the wind dropped, and a great calm followed.

inside turmoil or out
reciprocate and multiply
to address one effects the other

storms outside raise anxiety
inside storms spill past individuation
soon one is lost within the other

calming outsides eases inner sides
perspective reverses the all-consuming
in darkness a glimmer means everything

de-escalation reminds we are not fated
a breath in a panic attack is available
calm’s warmth unfreezes us

Lazy Jesus evaluates the situation. Keep bailing or stop more water from coming in. Just like the question of ease regarding forgiving sins or to say “Get up”, Jesus does that which models partnership with G*D and speaks as his followers would expect of a G*D-connected relationship.

In language that has us remembering a person out of their mind (1:25) told the same as is now said, “Peace!”, “Quiet!”, “Be Still!”, “Silence!” Since it is difficult to demand “Peace!” peaceably, one of the other commandments is a clearer translation.

We can’t avoid the theodicy question of having the power to act and the power to not do so. It is a question that has been begging to be addressed all through the healings and teachings. Now a nature “miracle” claims the special privilege of demonstrating a power to call things right (healings) (harvests) (calming wind and wave).

This is a particularly apt topic given the prevalence of Prosperity Preachers (court prophets) in every setting of Empire and the increasing number of poor people as more resources are claimed by the richest. Why does our experience of prayer not stop storms or locusts or cancer or job loss or . . . ? We are like King Canute who could not stop a rising tide; we cannot control our negatives. Likewise, we cannot add an inch to our height or have rain come at optimal times.

This may be impressive to the disciples in their frightened state, but it adds nothing to an apologetic for Jesus as Messiah or G*D-Partner.

Blessings on your practice of taking one E.E. Cummings-breath, “bigger than a circus tent”, and letting that settle in.

Mark 4:38

Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion; and the disciples roused him and cried, “Teacher! Is it nothing to you that we are lost?”

don’t you care we are drowning
is a question every threatened group
yells at persecutors and observers

at least recognize our suffering
see yourself in our plight
this must be witnessed recorded

students everywhere are tempted to give up
new concepts are too daunting
old resources no longer suffice

teacher teacher teacher they beseech
don’t you care we are failing
bail us out give us the answer

When in trouble, we cherish a, “but”.

All is not lost; there is still a way. If it had come earlier we would have been saved some angst.

In trying to prove our mettle, we find we have put off important connections. Not only has community suffered, so have we. Finally, we can no longer put off acknowledging our fear.

What more is there to be done?

Swanson recognizes a “tension in this scene is between people who know danger when they see it and Jesus who is asleep”. He suggests that the question asked of Jesus, “works well if they are really asking Jesus to get busy and act as if he were a part of the crew. Honor this truth when you play the scene.”

This acted-out parable pushes us back to the importance of partnership and growing together as a source of overall maturity of both individuals and community.

Several commentators bring Jonah into the picture (Jonah 1:5–6). They connect Jonah sleeping below deck with Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat. Both the crew of the ship Jonah is on and the disciples in the boat with Jesus ask them to do their job of connecting with G*D so things can be put right and we will be saved.

Both crews are fox-hole invokers. Until things are beyond us, G*D is beyond us. Prayer is a fix-it technique, not a process of deepening relationships, growing together.

Here Jesus is not thrown into the sea but called to take his part bailing water from the belly of the boat. Those with ears are invited to hear beyond words, to work on a changed heart.

Mark 4:37

A violent squall came on, and the waves kept dashing into the boat, so that the boat was actually filling.

a day’s pent-up energy
returns in unexpected fury
provisional answers nip at ankle
our bright guide star is clouded

observed from afar we thrash
awash in waters old and new
threatening our over-stressed mast
entreating our siren-yearning ears

this is not a straight-line voyage
from frying pan to fire
but a whirlpool maelstrom
unambiguously deadly deep

each perfect storm activates fear
scares the bejesus out of us
leaving us cobra entranced
resigned to an unavoidable bite

the end of our rope has been reached
no more decisions are needed
as the waters rise we know
our boat is no ark but garbage scow

Exaggeration, thy name is familiar. Waves look different depending on whether one is on shore or asea. Even if on the water there is a difference between being on an ocean-going freighter or coracle. Each serves in their appropriate setting but both would be up a creek without a paddle if they swapped places

For the moment we suspend our disbelief. We know what it is to feel fear beyond the danger of the moment. Fear is exponential, not additive.

This is the wild side of wilderness writ large. This goes beyond a test we get a D- on. We have reached the failsafe point and have failed. If the wind weren’t so strong, everyone could smell our fear. Our only urgency at this point is to withdraw from the game, forfeit-or-die. In the face of a bullying storm, we cry, “Uncle!” or use our safe-word, if only we could remember it.

These are dangerous times we live in. Those who would control through punishment are in charge. This wind is a parable for Empire about to blow everything apart, including itself. We need a mustard plant to shelter us. We are beginning to see what was at stake with the teachings.

But we are not there yet. The culture’s shadow side has been accepted as our own and we are convulsed needing it to be exorcised from our own lives. Our authority is strong enough for others, but not for ourselves. This test is too much.