"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
There is a short story titled ‘The ones who walk away from Omelas’ by Ursula Le Guin. I heard about it on the radio during the week. Professor Glyn Davies was speaking with Philip Adams on Late Night Live, talking abut poverty and life’s lottery. Glyn Davies says that for those born into poverty it is very difficult to get out of it. Those born in poverty are very likely to end up living in poverty their whole life long.
Omelas is a lovely town by the sea and everyone leads a very fulfilling happy life, but everyone shares a dark secret. Locked away in the basement of a house is a little child without light, in poverty and in the worst possible conditions. Everyone in the town knows that this is the price of their happiness and each person has to come to terms with it and decide what is right for them; whether to keep on living their fulfilled happy lives at the cost of continual suffering to one child, to put it out of mind; or to get out of town. The author poses the moral question – if you have had a fortunate life how do you feel about those who haven’t and what are you going to do to make a difference? She asks what would you do? Would you walk away and say I cannot live with this bargain that this child lives in the basement in order that I can be happy. But does walking away change things?
How often it is that people remain trapped because of secrets and cannot walk away. Someone else or a group knows something about them and they live in fear and shame. Australian of the year Grace Tame describes how a teacher, a pedophile, kept her trapped and cut off from her family, manipulating and controlling her, sexually abusing her until finally she told another person the terrible secret of her life, then she was free of her abuser but is still recovering from the trauma.
On the ABC news this morning there was a follow up story in response to Grace Tame’s award, written by Isabella Murray another survivor of child sexual abuse Isabella Murray writes… It took me 57 years to "come out" with a secret I thought I'd take to the grave. A friend had come over for a meal, my husband had gone to bed and we started talking "secret women's business". We were talking about men's behaviour and something in me just cracked. I broke open as I told her how, at the age of eight, I was constantly sexually abused by my oldest brother. It all came pouring out, as I wept and snorted for hours. The next morning, my husband found me asleep on the couch, wrapped in blankets, looking like I'd been in a car accident. I had no choice but to tell him too. The next day, my friend came to me and said, "I'm here to talk any time you like". Without that, I think I might have stayed in that awful black hole forever. I think she saved me. But not every conversation goes that way. And that needs to change.
Isabella went on to say … Perpetrators thrive on their victims remaining under cover. My oldest brother would say to me, "you've done a dirty, bad thing, and if you tell anyone, they'll know what a dirty, bad person you are". It never occurred to me that I wasn't the bad and dirty person. A survivor telling their story is not enough. We need feedback, anything to start that conversation. When we're not afraid to discuss this issue in polite society, then, and only then, will we have perpetrators on the run. Until that time, those who sexually abuse children will always have the upper hand.
Isabella Murray concluded… If we keep this a secret, nothing is going to change, for me or anybody. …But I need my experiences to be acknowledged and I want you all to know and talk about these difficult issues. It is the only way for social and cultural change to happen. As Tame says, #Let Me Speak — but please, speak back to me. Response from the listener is as important as the telling. That is where the healing really starts. The damage to this long lifetime can never be healed, but can possibly be soothed. But I cannot do it on my own.
What I find most surprising about our Bible reading today is that there was something hidden in that Synagogue that day – perhaps something that had been hidden for a long time. Something that was not noticed. Perhaps later people said, “How come we did not notice that?” So often we do not notice things until they are brought out fully into the light. And that is what Jesus does. He brings things into the light, out into the open, secrets are exposed, truth is revealed. Jesus brings awareness.
As Jesus’ words are spoken in the Synagogue a man stands out. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
When Jesus says, “Be silent.” He is not telling the man to shut up. He is not telling the victim of the possession to keep quiet. Jesus is telling the unclean spirit to be silent. For it is the voice of the unclean spirit that has dominated and controlled the man’s life up to this point. Jesus is telling the abuser to be quiet so that the survivor’s voice can be heard. In church we can often wittingly or unwittingly maintain the voice of the abuser and keep a person trapped in an awful secret and in an awful lonely and dark impoverished life
As we reflect on the reading today. I do not feel a call to go searching for, exposing and casting out demons; rather I feel a call to walk in the light, as individuals but perhaps more importantly as a congregation. To walk in the light of truth and openness and honesty, that we may all be truly free and all fully alive. Churches and congregations must be places of light and hope for the world, especially for those who live with dark secrets to tell. Churches must be places of truth and healing, a reflection of God consciousness.
‘Circle me Lord’ A Prayer by David Adam
Circle me, Lord. Keep protection near and danger afar.
Circle me, Lord Keep hope within. Keep doubt without.
Circle me, Lord. Keep light near and darkness afar.
Circle me, Lord. Keep peace within. Keep evil out.
Photo: West Cork, Republic of Ireland
1 Samuel 3:1-10 Finding One’s Voice
In the past I have had a recurring dream or rather nightmare. In my dream I am in trouble. I am about to drown or suffocate or be mugged or murdered. I try to call for help but I can’t get the word ‘help’ out. I open my mouth, but no words come, not even a scream. I can’t find my voice. It is a terrible feeling of helplessness. It makes me think about how I would react if it were really happening. But it is not only in violent situations that I can’t find my voice, there are often times that I get frustrated that I can’t find the words to say to express what I believe, or to express my opinion, or the wisdom that has come to me.
How do we find our voice? By that I mean giving voice to the best that is within us and acting on the best that is within us. Speaking and acting from the light that is within us.
From the story of Samuel as a young boy learning to hear the voice of God, we too learn the importance of listening for God speaking to us. Samuel wasn’t just a good listener to God, Samuel went on to be one of the most important prophets in Israel. Not only did he hear what God was saying, he acted on what he heard and he articulated to the nation what God was doing. Not only did he find his ears for God he also found his voice for God.
One of the most famous sayings of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers was, “Let your life speak.” George Fox, believed that each individual has the capacity for direct dialogue with God. God, he believed, appears to us through a divine inner voice, an inner light shared by all. Revelation from God would occur if people joined together in silence and opened their hearts to the divine voice within. Fox taught that if we can achieve stillness of Spirit, God will speak to us out of the silence, and by heeding the voice of God our lives will speak to others through our actions. Actions and well chosen words were what was most important for George Fox in voicing what God was saying.
How does one find one’s voice? How does one express or articulate what God may be saying to us? Or is this only for prophets and preachers? One of the authors of the book ‘Get up off your knees,’ (a collection of preacher’s sermons about U2), said in the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book that she was grateful to her Bishop for encouraging her to follow her dream of completing a PhD for in doing so it helped her to find her voice. It give her a means of articulating what was within her, of putting it out there for others to hear.
A PhD, an essay, letters to the editor, letters to politicians, letters to colleagues, letters to friends, sermons, participating in discussions, writing books, writing poems, writing songs, singing, drama, art, craft, dance etc. All these things give us vehicles to find our voice.
Living what we believe through our actions also gives voice to the ways of God. Acting out of truth and justice, peace and love, speak forth of a God who is loving and just. It’s about bringing out the best that is within us. In doing so we are nurturing our common humanity.
Have you ever felt that your life wasn’t speaking for you? Or that you had something within that you wanted to express to another person or to the world, but you just could not articulate it? Have you ever felt that God had said something to you, something that was helpful for the world but you just can’t get it out? What stops us from finding our voice?
Sometimes, fear prevents us from speaking up or speaking out. It stops us from writing that book, displaying our art, risking loving another person. I think that one of the ways of overcoming fear is by being able to articulate it. Saying, ‘I am afraid’ is a great start. It may not be what others want to hear. But getting it out from within is a great help. Squeezing out the fear can be quite painful and potentially embarrassing. But being able to squeeze out those words can be such a relief. An understanding friend might then ask, “Where did this fear come from?” or, “How did this fear get a hold of you?” or “What is it that is causing you to be fearful?” or, “What effect is the fear having upon you?” “Are there times when the fear was not there?” Again, putting it out there, articulating it, helps us to give voice to our desire to be rid of the effects that fear is having upon our lives.
We can find our voice by articulating first our fear and when our fear is out there, rather than in here, then our voices can speak forth of the freedom and joy of God. Our voices can speak out the truth we know within. From the depths of our being we can voice the praise of a liberating God and we can say ‘I am a child of the most wonderful liberating God.’
As you called your disciples, open our ears to your calling, open our eyes to your presence, open our hearts to your love; that we may hear you, and hearing you may love you, and loving you may serve you.
We have come to listen to you, O God: not only with our ears, but with our heart, and with our mind, and with our whole being.
Open us, that we might receive the truth that you speak to us.
Photo: County Galway, Republic of Ireland
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation