Nightmare In Paris: Exorcising Our Demons

When I was working with a Jungian analyst, we spent years interpreting my dreams. They were mostly nightmares in which I was pursued by threatening monsters, carrion birds, or mute zombies. I was sure they wanted to destroy me, and because I felt weak, unable to defend myself, I ran. With an enormous amount of reassurance, my analyst finally coaxed me into a new approach: when my demons pursue me, she urged me to stop running, to turn during my nightmare and bravely face the source of my terror. She convinced me that the reason the demons were chasing me was that I kept running away! If I stopped and listened to what they wanted so desperately to tell me, the nightmares would end.

What I discovered is that the monsters and zombies of my dreams represented various parts of my own psyche that desperately needed my conscious attention. When I was able to listen to their fears, tend to their wounds, and dry their tears, my nightmares faded away. Slowly, I was made whole by the very things that had terrified me.

Terrorized by Our Twin

The terror in Paris may be the latest nightmare of the Western world. The world we are conscious of is being pursued by monsters which, much like my personal demons, may represent parts of ourselves we have banished and exiled. I believe that we are engaged in what the late René Girard called a battle of enemy twins. As much as we want to believe in our complete and utter difference from one another, we are adversaries who believe alike in our chosenness, in our divine favor. And that identity is more crucial than any variation in our cultures, religious or secular. What we share in common is certainly more crucial than the differing reasons we give for justifying violence, reasons which amount to nothing at all at the graveside of a husband, a wife, a child.

What we run away from in fear is the truth of our uncomfortable sameness, which is our shared worship of an identical yet false god. The worship we share is of an idol who conveniently takes our side, who endorses our violence and condemns the violence of our enemy. Political leaders across the warring divide rally their people with the same rhetoric: we are engaged in a battle of good against evil; for the sake of peace we must prevail. The high priests of our secular and religious structures preach that god is on our side and blesses our sacrifice.

Discovering the God Who Pursues Us

There is, thanks be to God, another narrative inspired by the One whom we have expelled with as much vehemence as any zombie of our nightmares. It is a story of the God who longs to be heard, who pursues us with such energy that we can sometimes feel we are being pursued by monsters! But many across the warring divide have stopped running. They have turned to listen to what this divinity of love and peace wants us to hear. You know many of the Christians who preach, teach and witness to what they have heard: Brian Mclaren, James Alison, Ben Corey, Kathy Kelly, Michael Hardin, Richard Rohr, Karen Armstrong, Pope Francis, and René Girard. But because the West does such a poor job of listening to Muslim and Jewish voices for peace, you may not have heard of their names: Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Safi Kaskas, Sheima Sumer, Shaiwat Satha-Anand, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Anat Hoffman, Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, and Rabbi Arik Ascherman.

As we learn from this amazing diversity of witnesses to listen to the God who pursues us we discover, to our deepest horror, that we are no different than our enemies. That the accusation of murderer, of inhuman torturer, of someone who has monstrous disregard for human life – those accusations land with surprising accuracy on our heads. Who would not run from such a nightmare?

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Moses, the God of Jesus and Muhammad, begs us to see ourselves in the violence we condemn and fear in others. This God is pleading for us to stop running from him. Nightmares can end. We can sleep the sleep of the innocent, but not before confessing our guilt. “Rest in peace” is not something that is gained only in death, but is the very real promise of new life here and now. Let us join together to worship God who is relentless in love and mercy for us and for our enemies. We are all God’s children, the enemy twins whose return he awaits with open arms.

Image: Paris at Sunset by Moyan Bren. Available on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

2 replies
  1. Sheima Salam Sumer
    Sheima Salam Sumer says:

    Dear Ms. Ross, this is a very moving and deep article. I am honored that you mentioned me. You make an excellent point that we tend to believe that God is on our side, that we are the favored ones. This belief enables us to see others as less than human. Thank you for all that you are doing to promote interfaith, interhuman peace. I would like to mention a current interfaith activist, Saadia Faruqi. If you have time, she gave a nice interview with a Houston radio station :

    https://soundcloud.com/houstonmatters/in-the-wake-of-paris-attacks-should-muslims-have-to-defend-islam

    Reply
    • Suzanne Ross
      Suzanne Ross says:

      I’m so glad you found the article, Sheima! And thanks for the link to Saadia’s interview. Now more than ever we need to lift up voices for peace from all religions and regions of the world.

      Reply

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