The weight of it is crushing, suffocating. 50 dead. 53 injured. Another city in mourning. Heartbreak throughout the world.
In his gospel, Luke tells us the story about the man possessed by demons. The man who for a long time had worn no clothes. Who lived in the tombs. He was kept under guard, bound and shackled but would break free and be driven by the demon into the wilds. The demon called Legion to encompass the many demons possessing the man. By naming the demons, Jesus took control over them and successfully commanded them to enter the herd of swine feeding nearby. And the swine rushed down a steep bank into a lake and drowned.
What is our Legion? Who is our Legion?
lt would be convenient for us – as some have – to isolate certain individuals and groups and identify them as our demon, our Legion, who cause, who allow, these massacres to continue to take place. But is it really that easy? Perhaps Legion is in all of us. Perhaps Legion dwells in our societal institutions and organizations, and we believe ourselves to be powerless to name it and root it out.
Just as the man was possessed by many demons, the crisis presented to us has many facets. Disaffected young men. Gun control or lack of it. A public discourse characterized by rancor and ill will. Inequality of income, education, resources. And more.
Perhaps Legion infiltrates our thought processes and convinces us that the causes of these relentless shootings are so myriad, so complex, so hard to identify, that we don’t know where to start, so we don’t.
Perhaps Legion tries to break into our life of prayer with God and convince us that God is powerless to stop it or even to help us stop it. And God, the all powerful, has chosen to give us the power. By granting us free will, God said, okay, here you go. I hope you choose me, choose my ways, but I’m not going to make you do that. You have the choice. And, to a large extent, we have made our choice.
Because, as various voices say after each one of these horrific tragedies, to choose not to act is to act. But God didn’t stop there. God allowed Jesus, God’s son, to be crucified for us and then raised him from the dead to conquer all sin, all death, all destruction, all Legions. And, as voices after each of these tragedies remind us, love is stronger than hate, life stronger than death.
A friend of mine was always very close to her father but has been estranged from her mother and brother for many years. Recently, she and I were going through a box of old family correspondence – postcards from camp, congratulatory letters to her parents at the time of her birth, first birthday cards. We came across a diary of sorts – in her mother’s handwriting on a small card – that detailed my friend’s reaction when she first met her newborn brother.
“Can I kiss him?”
“Can I touch him?”
The baby started to cry.
“He wants his toys.”
And then, her mother wrote, my friend went to her room and brought back her own small wooly lamb to give to her baby brother. As we read that card, for that moment, the anger, discord, hurt feelings, resentments were gone and in their place joy filled the room. Love won out.
We can cling to that experienced truth, that known reality, and it can encourage us to walk forward in this bewildering maze, confident that we will find what we need, that we will be alright when we find it and that we will overcome. That we will find our way out of the maze. And, with God’s help, we can do this. We can hunker down and pray, pray and pray again to God to help us figure out what the Legion in our midst is and name it, gain power over it and root it out.
When I had a daunting task to take care of, my dad used to ask, “How do you eat an elephant?” And the answer would always follow: “One bite at a time.” And, with God’s help, that is what we can do. We in our own lives, with the people with whom we live, work, go to school and interact, we can, one bite at a time, name the Legion trying to taint our relationship and take power over it.
The Sandy Hook parents have taken their fight to install some measure of sanity in our gun laws to court. Orlando as a city has said that hatred is not the answer. That love is the answer. The fund for the victims’ families is already in the millions. And every day, agencies work to nurture understanding where there are differences — racial, ethnic, in sexual orientation, between the genders, interfaith.
And, one bite at a time, we can join these people who are working to counteract Legion, we can watch joy overcome sorrow, love overcome hatred and life overcome death. We can help them make it happen. And, we can come to know the day when we will stand together, hand in hand, and watch the swine rush down the hill toward the lake and drown.