It’s not too difficult to make some connections between the man in today’s gospel (Luke 8:26-29) and ourselves and what has happened in Uvalde. Though his circumstances may be different from ours, we’re not that different from him.
- The man used to live in a house in the city, now he lives outside the city in the tombs. Though we might still live in the City of Uvalde, I suspect many of us now feel exiled, not at home, and living in a place we never wanted to go or be.
- For a long time he has worn no clothes. Although we’re still dressed and wearing clothes, I suspect many of us feel naked and vulnerable.
- He is bound with chains and shackles but not all chains and shackles are made of steel. I suspect many of us feel bound by the chains and shackles of grief, loss, and powerlessness.
One of the things I know from my own experience of grief and loss is that it is so easy and tempting to identify and define ourselves by our wounds and what has happened to us. That’s what the man in today’s gospel has done.
When Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” he said, “‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him.” That is not, however, his name. And that is not who he is. That is what has happened to him. And as I have said over and over since the start of this tragedy, “We are more than what has happened to us.”
Don’t get stuck on the demons in today’s gospel. That’s simply a metaphorical description of the emotional and spiritual disruption and dis-integration in the man’s life, a reality all of us are now experiencing. That he calls himself “Legion” means the causes, sources, and manifestations of this disruption and disintegration are many and great.
At an historical level Legion refers to a Roman army unit of about 6000 soldiers. So when this man says that he is Legion he is saying, “I have been overrun. I am divided and separated. I am fragmented and fractured. My life is shattered and disrupted. I am overwhelmed with 6000 Roman soldiers running around in me.”
Does any of that sound familiar? 6000 different feelings. 6000 questions. 6000 what ifs. 6000 what nows. Do you ever feel like that? My guess is that most of us do.
Name the Legion within you, the Legion you are dealing with. Legion is real, but know this: You are not Legion. And Uvalde is not the Robb School shooting. We are more than and larger than our history.
That’s what Jesus knows about you and me, Uvalde, and the man in today’s gospel. In Christ chains and shackles are broken, nakedness is clothed, tombs are emptied, and demons are powerless. Jesus says to the man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
Though it may be hard to see or believe right now, the day is coming when we too will return to our home and declare how much God has done for us. I don’t know when that will happen but that is the promise of today’s gospel. It’s the gospel’s promise to each of us, to Uvalde, to the people of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.
Please don’t hear that as some trite or sentimental platitude about some magical fix. That’s not going to happen. And I don’t mean we will get over what has happened, forget about it, move on, or somehow make peace with it. I don’t ever want that to happen. What I mean is that we will be enlarged by what has happened to us. We will know ourselves to be more than our history. And we will live from the creative power of our potential and not from our limiting or wounding experiences. (Hollis, Swamplands, 127)
That is not just our daily hope and prayer, that is our daily work. Every day there is a task before us. “Every day [of this tragedy] is a summons to a larger life.” Every day we must choose “between the forces of regression … and progression.” (Hollis, The Broken Mirror, 22)
I want to choose progression and a larger life for myself, you, and Uvalde. And I hope you do too. I want us to choose the tasks that enlarge life. It’s a choice we need to make again and again, day after day, moment to moment. It’s how we get through this.
What is the task for you and me today that enlarges life? What is that task for St. Philip’s? And what would it mean and look like for us to do the work of progression and enlargement?