Ghosts and Demons: Thoughts Before Halloween

I work in a little gift shop in the “Old Town” Albuquerque. As you can guess, Old Town is the site of the original city, that has expanded over the years to be what it is today. Many of the buildings in Old Town, including the shop where I work, have been here since the city first came to be. Many used to be homes; my shop still has a fireplace (although it’s no longer working) and a room with a bathtub in it.

Since this place is so old, and there are so many tangible pieces of history, there is a lot of lore and talk of Old Town being haunted by its former residents. I have personally never experienced anything paranormal, but others claim to have seen or heard ghosts. There is even the tourist-attracting Ghost Tour that I took with my family last summer. We were led through the streets and back-alleys by a stalky, bearded man who carried a lantern and wore snake-eye contact lenses for effect. We were told many stories of murdered harlots, uneasy spirits of former residents haunting their family home, and so on. At a few stops along the way, we were encouraged to snap photos because “some people claim to see a glowing orb that could be evidence of a ghost”. Of course, my digital camera only produced washed-out photos of my sister and I putting on our best “scared” faces.

It’s easy to be skeptical about all of this, but the idea of ghosts makes me a little uneasy. I won’t even let myself watch a trailer for “Paranormal Activity 2.” And while I am sometimes comforted by my skepticism (“Right, I wonder how many of these ‘encounters’ he’s making up,” or “This is all hype to scare tourists”), I was recently confronted with a ghost story that was harder to ignore, because it was told to me by one of my co-workers, who has always seemed rational and level-headed. She doesn’t strike me as the type of person to make things up.

A few weeks ago we were working the same shift together, and a couple of teenagers came in asking if we had ever seen ghosts around here. We both said no, but my co-worker followed up by saying, “But I have seen a ghost before.” The story went something like this:

Some years ago, she was with a former boyfriend at a hotel. Apparently he had been drinking a lot, and he was very sick. She helped him into bed, turned off the lights and laid down to get some rest. At some point in the night, she woke up and saw a huge, dark figure standing over the bed, and at first thought it that one of their friends had come into the room. The figure began to reach over her toward her boyfriend, and, using all her strength, she shoved – whatever it was – off of them, and it immediately disappeared.

Our ghost-hunting tourists seemed to find satisfaciton in their resulting goosebumps, but it frightened me a little. It’s one thing to write off stories told by a Ghost Tour guide – someone who’s paid to talk about the paranormal – but it’s another thing to hear something like that from someone I know personally.

Jump ahead to last Sunday: one of the deacons in our church gave the homily, and it happened to be on the passage in Luke where Jesus encounters the man possessed by a Legion of demons:

“Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.’ For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” – Luke 8:26-33

Since I was little, Sunday school teachers and pastors have emphasized the fact that even the demons know that Jesus is God, which is made clear by this passage. But what struck me when I heard it this time was that the demons not only recognized Jesus; they begged him not to torment them or “command them into the abyss.” As I sat in church last Sunday, I marveled at the fact that the demons don’t even try to challenge Christ; they are aware of his power over them and immediately resort to begging – they even cause the possessed man to fall before Jesus, an image that suggests a strange kind of reverence.

What does this all have to do with my co-worker’s ghost story? Well, when I got home that night, I still felt uneasy, but as I thought about it, I realized something: if Jesus reigns over the demons, he certainly reigns over ghosts, if they exist at all.

As I related all of this to Jordan, I resolved by saying, “You know, I believe in the supernatural. I believe that there is a spirit world, and that angels and demons are real. I don’t know if ghosts are real, but I do know this: if Jesus is powerful enough to become human, die for me and save me from eternal damnation, I’m pretty sure he’s more powerful than ghosts.”

In the end, I still don’t know exactly what to believe when it comes to stories of the paranormal. But in a way, I don’t think it really matters. Because whether I do or don’t believe in ghosts, I rest safely in what I do believe:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten, not created, being of one essence with the Father, through whom all things were made. 

Who for, us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, rising again on the third day, according to the Scriptures. And he ascended into heaven, where he is seated at the right hand of the Father. Coming again in glory to judge the living and the deaad, his kingdom shall have no end. 

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets.

In one holy, catholic and apostolic church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; I expect the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen.

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