“My daughter is tormented by a demon.” – Matthew 15:22 (NRSV)
When my son asked me if we had much mental illness in our family, I said yes. I couldn’t bear lying. It felt mentally ill to lie. He wanted to know for a very personal reason, and I thought he already knew. My grandmother had tried to kill my mother in the 1920s – during postpartum depression, and before therapists and anti-depressants. A lot of immigrants experienced both; so did she. My father and brother drank themselves to death. I could go on but that’s enough for now. My mother lived to be a very happy 94-year-old, content for her last thirty years once her mother and husband and son were gone and less of a cumber to her joy.
Demons describe mental illness well. They possess the way depression does. “Why bother?” is their demonic question. “You’re no good, I own you, try to get free,” sneer the devils.
Jesus understood. We don’t know how he did or why the woman found the courage to approach him. She deserves a lot of credit. Most people suffer quietly with their devils. It feels too embarrassing to be exposed or too risky to expose the devils.
As with most of the healing stories, her faith makes her whole. Her trust has brought her to the threshold of healing. Her breaking of the rules about keeping your mouth shut does most of the work. The rest is done by the one we call Savior, who is said to cast out demons. I think the possessed and their families also help by hoping, faithing and trusting. It’s the new/old mutualism.
Release us of our secrets, Precious One, and land us on the well-tested turf of mutual hope.
Donna Schaper is Pastor at the Orient Congregational Church on the far end of Long Island, New York. Her newest book is Remove the Pews: Spiritual Possibilities for Sacred Spaces, from The Pilgrim Press.