Last week, a friend told me: “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m constantly stressed and always tempted to be angry. Before the pandemic, I knew exactly who I was. But now, I’m turning into someone I don’t want to be.” When I told him I sometimes feel the same way, he seemed consoled. Misery loves company.
It cannot be denied that due to the pandemic, many of us are losing our grip on our identity and autonomy. Many contrary voices compete for our attention and allegiance. They tell us to do this, avoid that; accept this, reject that; maintain this, give up that. They break throughour strongest defenses through fear and intimidation. They deprive us of our ability to decide based on what we truly believe and value. When someone asks us what we think, we simply parrot what we are told or what we hear.
Indeed, many of us have become like the possessed man in the Gospel reading today (Mark 1:21-28). He has lost his grip on reality. He speaks, not with his own voice, but that of the unclean spirits that have separated him from his authentic self. He has become their spokesperson. His question to Jesus echoes the concern of those who have taken control of his body and soul: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”
That is exactly what Jesus has come for. He has come to destroy the “us,” the false voices that rob us of our precious identity and self-worth. Jesus does this in a two-fold way: He casts out, then He calls forth.
First, He says “Shh! Be quiet and come out!” to those hidden forces that we have allowed to invade our system — the talkative television and radio reporters, the Internet, Netflix, celebrities, health gurus and pseudo-experts, the advertisers, agents of secularism and commercialism, dubious televangelists, power-hungry and greedy government leaders, and many others that have created a false identity which we accept as ours.
Then He calls forth our true self, the one made in the image and likeness of God. He calls us back into the beauty and wholeness of our original being. Even in the midst of our self-estrangement, something within us knows and listens to the voice of God. No matter how brainwashed we are, the ability to recognize God remains. Why? Because God never leaves us. Even if we have shut the door in His face, He patiently waits for us to open it again.
Jesus waits for us to allow Him to enter our life so we can feel that He recognizes us for who we really are. As we read in the Book of Revelation, Jesus tells us: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together” (Revelation 3:20).
When we allow Jesus to cast out all the strident voices that monopolize our thoughts and desires, when we allow Him to empty us of all pretenses, our souls become an “open house.” We are ready to receive Him and be made whole again. As the poet Theodore Roethke beautifully puts it:
“My heart keeps an open house,
my doors are widely swung.
My secrets cry aloud,
I have no need for tongue.
My truths are all made known,
my anguish self-revealed,
I’m naked to the bone.
Myself is what I wear,
I keep my spirit spare,
to welcome LOVE, so rare.”