Into crucible of fever and fire

The popularity of the “Bell Let’s Talk” social media event every year (in Canada) has increased our awareness of mental health. Especially this year, in the throes of a worldwide pandemic, we may very well have a contemporary equivalent to the kind of “demons” that afflicted Galilean communities in Jesus’ day. We all struggle with, as we say, our own demons.

When adversity strikes, when prolonged periods of desolation, unknowing, doubt and uncertainty weigh heavy on us like a suffocating blanket we cannot seem to throw off.

Indeed, these are the times Jesus enters the lives of people – when they are in crisis. The context of the healing stories that reveal the divinity of Christ are times of suffering of some kind in the lives of the people Jesus encounters. Why does Jesus, born of God, care to go first, like a magnet, into these messy and dark places of our lives?

After telling the first healing story of Simon’s mother-in-law, the Gospel writer Mark makes a statement-of-fact-like claim when he concludes that the demons, “they knew” Jesus.[1]They recognized him, as they already declared in the healing story prior to this one.[2]

The flipside is true, too. To know another is for the other to know you. The demons knew Jesus. But for this to be true, Jesus had to know them. God, in Christ, knows intimately the darkness, the pain and the suffering of our lives.

The first steps in faith during a crisis is to welcome Jesus in. Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew before any healing could happen. They had to let Jesus into the space of this crisis where Simon’s mother-in-law suffered from a fever. We welcome Jesus into the messy, dark, suffering region of our souls. Not to deny Jesus entrance into that which may be embarrassing, shameful or guilt-ridden. Not to pretend, deny or hide Jesus from these places in our life.

But precisely because Jesus knows our demons, the road to healing will not close the door of our burdened hearts to God but opens them wide in trusting vulnerability.

Nathan Drum was all set to become a successful, big-city lawyer when he joined the military and fought in the Second World War overseas. In William Krueger’s award-winning fiction book entitled, Ordinary Grace, Nathan returned home a changed man. 

His experience in war affected him so much so that he came back and did a 180. He enrolled in Seminary and became a pastor serving a three-point parish in rural Minnesota.

Some of his friends and family wondered what happened that would have changed him, thinking that it must have been a specific incident in the war itself that must have done something to him.

His friend, Emil, offered a different perspective when they considered another friend of theirs, a veteran of the Korean War who came back to heavy drinking and physically abusing his family.

Emil, a veteran himself, says, “Sometimes, Nathan, I think that it wasn’t so much the war as what we took into the war. Whatever cracks were already there the war forced apart, and what we might otherwise have kept inside came spilling out.

“You may have gone to war thinking you were going to be a hotshot lawyer afterward, but I believe that deep inside you there was always the seed of a minister.”[3]

Into the crisis, that is personal for you, Jesus will enter boldly and without hesitation. Christ will enter in, to expose and shed loving light on our heavy hearts and whatever pain we bear.

Jesus will also expose the seed of the truth in ourselves. Not only is the darkness revealed, but the light in us as well. Those ‘seeds’ are deep within us, and we may have for a long time kept these inside, hidden from view. But on this journey Jesus will open to us our capacity for love, for compassion, for mercy and forgiveness. That is the way. The way of Jesus.

The journey there may be painful and will call from us endurance and resiliency. By leaning on the support of others who offer their loving presence and help, we will know we are not alone on this journey. And that, in the end, what ultimately emerges will be the beautiful flowering of who we are and for what purpose we are made.

Some will denounce the lockdown as harmful to us. Some will decry the pandemic restrictions as an unfortunate reality, something we should avoid, deny and as quickly as possible get past and get back to normal. For some of us, we will need professional help to deal with our crisis of mental health, or of a financial situation, or the loss of any kind brought on by the worldwide crisis.

But for most of us whose lives have nonetheless been changed by the pandemic, I believe this crisis can be an opportunity to re-engage the inner and transcendent dimensions of our lives and the journey of faith. Before we can do anything effective out there, we have to come to terms with what’s in here. 

In all truth, faith is born in adversity. Faith in Christ cannot be experienced apart from the crucible of fever and fire. Christ will be present into the crisis. And Jesus will touch our hearts, aflame with pain, touch our hearts to heal them and activate therein the fire of love, patience, forgiveness and compassion – for oneself and then for the other.

[1]Mark 1:34, NRSV

[2]In Mark 1:24, the demon assailing the man in the synagogue cries out to Jesus, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

[3]William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace: A Novel (New York: Atria Paperback/ Simon & Schuster, 2014), p.67-68.

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