Demons and the Likes of Us

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Several years ago, I visited the ancient monastery of Pomposa in Italy, whose fourteenth-century-frescoed church walls featured terrifying demons. They looked like the monsters from Maurice Sendak’s famous children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are: horns, tails, filed teeth, dank hair. You could tell just by looking at them how bad they smelled. One of them, an enormous buffalo-headed creature, was busily chewing a hapless human in half.  

So were these the demons Jesus kept casting out wherever he went? If so, then we twenty-first-century folks might conclude that that was then, and this is now. The management of demons, though clearly a very big deal in the past, has little to do with the likes of us. But isn’t it true that people can become obsessed with thoughts that lead to other thoughts that build upon still more thoughts until folks become walking Jenga towers of thoughts, top-heavy and unbalanced and emotionally exhausted from holding it all together? Social media provides all the examples we might ever need that this can indeed happen to a person.  

So what if someone came along and—lightly, lovingly, but very firmly—pulled out the thought at the bottom of the pile? The tower would tumble, releasing a person from psychological bondage. I think this may have been what was happening when Jesus drove out a demon. When he lifted his hand and commanded a fraught and exhausted mind to leave a person in peace.  

© Liturgical Press.

Paula Huston

Paula Huston is a longtime Camaldolese Benedictine oblate and the author of two novels and seven books on the spiritual life. Her most recent is One Ordinary Sunday: A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass. She is currently at work on the history of the Big Sur hermitage.

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