By Lucy Price
Matthew, Mark and Luke all contain seizures and demons in the same sentence and some even translate the word to epilepsy. Lunatic and moonstruck are closer to the original translation, but in any case growing up in the church as a person living with epilepsy, hearing the story of the boy brought to Jesus for healing left me with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat.
Sadly I’ve been the victim of attack on two occasions when having seizures, once in a Church of England School and later as an adult in an evangelical church. Demonic possession and seizures still go hand in hand for some Christians, and the fear that an epileptic seizure elicits can lead to violence.
For a long time, 25 years or so, I would hear the accounts of seizures and demons and feel sure that I was cursed in some way by God and that as “this kind cannot come out except by prayer” (Mark 9:29). In my mind, I was being punished for not praying enough. I felt that the epilepsy was a demon I carried, and that if I could pray better or harder, or more faithfully, it would go away. Jesus became a disappointed finger wagger and so I stopped reading these verses and tried to bury deep, the sadness that came with each seizure, each reminder that my prayers were not enough.
In recent years, I have come to hear these scriptures differently. You could say my prayers have been answered, in that I no longer hear the stories of the epileptic boy, tormented by a demon as an attack on me and my condition. Instead, I hear Jesus response in healing the boy as His prayer for me.
Epilepsy is not a demon, but part of the human condition and over the years it has shown me some of the best in humanity. Aside from the two occasions mentioned above, I have been shown compassion and care by strangers each time epilepsy struck.
On one occasion in the ER friends came to pray over me while I was in recovery sleeping, and I was later told that during that time, my heart rate dropped from 69 to 52 bpm. I had no awareness but my loved ones witnessed the power of prayer and drew comfort from it. Perhaps the prayers of those people drove the epilepsy away for a time to allow for deeper sleep and recovery.
For myself I no longer fear those verses, but see a place where Jesus spends time in his ministry with people like me who were hurt by their seizures and the stigma it carried. The story of the epileptic boy has become transformational through the intimacy of Jesus healing and prayers. In short, these passages were never about the demon, but about Jesus response on our behalf. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Lucy Price was born in Newcastle, UK and serves as associate priest at St. James an Anglo-Catholic church in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, BC, Coast Salish Territory. Lucy is a mixed-media and stencil artist working under the name L.J. Throstle. Lucy is planning a solo walk of the Santiago Camino in Spain starting Easter Monday.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in scripture, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.