I sat in a cold room under flickering fluorescent lights. I was shaking as two older men placed their hands on my head and commanded the demons leave me in Jesus’ name. “I just saw a hippy demon fly out of you,” said the big guy in his booming preacher voice. They told me all sorts of demons were flying around the room. The other placed a Bible in my lap, “You must read God’s word,” he said. “It’s like a sword that penetrates the darkness.”
“Where?” I flipped through the pages.
“Anywhere,” he said. And so I started reading Leviticus law.
“Try Ephesians,” the other one said after I muttered through the passages about who can have sex with who. He directed me to the verse and chapter. I read:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. -Ephesians 6:12
The Christian fiction author, Frank Peretti had a major influence on the evangelical and charismatic culture that I was a part of in the late 80s and early 90s. Some Christians even claimed his books, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness were second only to the Bible and many used them as spiritual warfare handbooks. (Scrolling down on the reviews you can see how much this Christian world view persists today.)
I found myself in Christian communities that prayed more against demons than to God. Ever since I was little, I had been warned about these demons and the portals they use to enter our world: liberalism, new age spirituality, environmentalism, feminism, oh the worst: relativism.
I still remember that awful feeling in my stomach, when I stood in front of my fifth grade class and announced that I would not be attending school on Halloween because it was “The Devil’s Holiday” and we didn’t worship Satan in our family. Even my teacher looked at me with wide eyes and an open mouth. But I had come to expect this sort of judgement. I had been taught that Christians were set apart, fools for Christ.
I was out of grad school when this frightening dualistic world view finally unraveled for me. I listened to a kind psychologist explain (one of those I had been warmed about: the humanistic people under Satan’s spell), he said, “The demons we fear are our own wounded and abandoned parts of ourselves.”
My spiritual journey began to turn in a whole new direction. Instead of escaping my fear–and projecting it onto other people, religions, cultures and worldviews, I began to welcome it. I began to sit with it. I visualized it. I asked it what these fears and awful feelings wanted from me. At first they said: I want your life. I want to consume you. I want to put all my hatred in you. But when I asked them what they needed they said: I need your love. I need your attention. I need your compassion. I witnessed these cut off parts of myself transforming from enemies that once drained all my energy to fight, into allies that empowered me to live a more peaceful creative life.
Shortly thereafter I found myself at a conference on the Divine Feminine at the Washington National Cathedral. I stood in the back of Bethlehem Chapel– green with morning sickness– listening to the first American woman to be ordained as a Tibetan nun. I listened with more than a hundred other people to Tsultrim Allione teach the ancient Buddhist practice of Feeding Your Demons. I fed myself saltine crackers, pregnant with my daughter and my budding feminine spirituality. As I listened I could not help but see how this practice mirrored teachings in the Jewish and Christian traditions too.
Much of the Old Testament law teaches the importance of extreme hospitality towards strangers. Jesus continued this hospitality as he welcomed sinners, outcasts and women to dine with him. In the image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus is portrayed as seeking and feeding the lost. I realized the lost come in many forms: those who have been abused, those who are literally hungry, also those parts of ourselves that we fight against, deny, silence with perfectionism, alcoholism, the ones we starve out, and feed with hatred.
In the mystery of the Eucharist, Christ’s body is given to us. I asked a young girl on Sunday what this could possibly mean. She wisely replied, “It reminds us that we are one with God. That God actually lives inside our bodies.”
Tsultrim Allione taught me that to fight the demons makes them stronger–but to feed them–with the nectar of your very body, satisfies and transforms them.
In my next post I will share the meditation practice that I learned from Tsultrim Allione on how to begin to feed your own demons.