Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Demon vs. Divine possession

I was thinking about my last entry and it made me wonder. Why do Catholics have “demon possession” and Protestants have “getting filled with the spirit?”

I have witnessed the latter, which is divine possession and considered a good thing. It’s probably almost as scary as the demon kind for this spectator, though it doesn’t seem to last as long and doesn’t require the intervention of clergy before it stops. When I’ve seen it, it took place during a church service. There was a lot of energetic singing and call and response type stuff going on. I heard the noise level to my right shift, so I turned. A group of people formed a circle around somebody on the floor who I got the impression was flailing around. After a few minutes people helped her up and appeared to be congratulating her. All I could think as my breathing grew shallow and sweat popped out on my forehead was, “What if that happens to me in here?” I didn’t know a soul there. Who would help me to the floor if the spirit took a notion to fill me and I fell out? What if I hit my head on the way down? What would these strangers think? Etc.

Once I went on a cross-country camping trip with a friend named Lorene. In the middle of a dark night in Georgia, she started speaking in tongues. To make matters worse, a hellacious thunderstorm was going on outside. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so terrified. Most of her utterances were gibberish, but occasionally she’d throw in a phrase ornamented with Biblical-sounding names. Between outbursts she’d heave impossibly long, rasping inhalations. I was afraid to wake her. I was afraid to run away. I was afraid if I reached for the zipper on the tent, a claw would encircle my wrist in the dark, and I knew if that happened I’d have a heart attack and die. I would almost rather swallow hot coals than be that scared again.

The next morning when I told Lorene what happened she was incredulous in a really obnoxious, dismissive fashion. She did it three more times before we got so pissed at each other in the Rockies that we turned around and came home to Greensboro, ignoring the speed limit and stopping only for gas. Flooding had followed us out there, and wildfires sprouted in our wake as we came back. It all happened over ten years ago and sometimes I still wake up at night thanking God I am no longer on that trip.

Takeshi, my friend from Japan, told me that the fear of demonic possession must be a cultural thing. The Japanese don’t take The Exorcist all that seriously. However, they do have an equivalent fear involving curses from beyond the grave. The films The Ring and The Grudge were remakes of Japanese movies. They’re both about curses and Takeshi said they have about the same emotional impact on Japanese people as Exorcist –type movies do on Americans.
Well, this all makes me ask myself, what is the point of either kind of possession? First of all, what is the point of getting filled with the spirit in church? I asked my uncle Windsor, who used to attend such a church, and he couldn’t quite tell me, or I couldn’t make sense of what he said. So I’m left to assume it must be because it’s something like fun. I try to imagine it – getting to take a short break from your own personality and the responsibility of conducting your physical being in a dignified fashion. The support and nurturing care of the church members around you while you take this break. The feeling that you’ve touched the divine.

Windsor said he used to go to church with a woman who faked it for attention – getting filled with the spirit I mean. So he got fed up with it and didn’t catch her when she fell out one time, and they got into an argument about it, and I think he quit going to church after that.
Now, with demonic possession, the fun is probably all being had by the demon. Or is it? Perhaps the human being gets to enjoy the fuss vicariously. When you’re demon possessed, people pay attention to you. You have a license to be rude. And if you’ve felt in lacking in attention and respect from others before, you find that people attend to and respect the hell out of everything you do once the voice of Satan announces itself from your throat.

Something scary: go to Youtube and search for "Japanese ghost videos." Don't watch any right before bed, though. Takeshi said all of that stuff comes from Japanese TV specials that air every year around the anniversary of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. All Those creepy photos and videos might be of people who were vaporized and don't yet know they're dead.

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