The Parable of the Unclean Spirit

Mid Week Faith Lift

May 18, 2022

The Parable of the Unclean Spirit

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

Rev. Deb Hill-Davis


Spiritual Passages

Daily Reflection

April 27, 2022


In refining silver, a silversmith holds a piece of silver in the middle of the fire where the flames are hottest. Asked how he knows when the silver is fully refined, he replies, "Oh, that's easy. "It's finished when I can see my image in it."


"He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." - Malachi 3:3


Affirmative prayer: Knowing that all life is made in the likeness of the Divine, I see God’s image in me, in everyone, and in everything. As I create my world, I see this spiritual semblance in my handiwork. I give thanks that this thing called Life is always recreating itself and the qualities of God are passed from one expression to the next. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.


The parable we are working with today is the Parable of the Unclean Spirit, which is all about the breath.  It is a puzzling and enigmatic parable, which requires us to dig a bit deeper to discern the spiritual or metaphysical meaning of the teaching.  What the opening story from Spiritual Passages suggests is that we are called to sit with the hottest part of the fire and to celebrate the reality that Life is always recreating itself, even when we dislike and resist that process.  It is sometimes only in the hottest part of the fire that we are able to burn away all that does not serve us and see clearly what does serve us.  Thus it is with the Unclean Spirit.


What does this challenging parable say to us?  It is found in Matthew 12:43-45 and it reads like this:


      The Return of the Unclean Spirit


               43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it returns, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.” (NRSV)


In first century Palestine, the idea of an unclean spirit is similar to that of a demon or devil that we explored in the last parable of the strong-armed man.  However, as we discovered in that parable, while the notion of “devil” was common, Jesus did not subscribe to that idea.  Instead, he debunked it by saying “a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.”  And so it is in this parable that Jesus is telling us that while we may let go of those internal divisions and messages, it is a process that really demands something of us for real and lasting transformation to happen.


Let’s explore this some more.  The first idea that comes to mind is that this is an ongoing process!  It is clearly not a one and done.  Dr. Todd Michael identifies the word pneuma from the Greek as having to do with the breath, much as we discussed last week while exploring the Divine Feminine.  However, as we noted, in Greek this is a neutral word, neither, feminine nor masculine:  it is just breath.  And this breath is as yet uncleansed; once it is cleansed, it is the energy of Spirit, of God.  Cleansing the breath is a way of as Dr. Michael says on p. 67 of the Hidden Parables:

          …magnifying Spirit, connecting to Spirit—a way of hooking up to the power station of Spirit and recharging one’s entire bioenergetic body, one’s entire life.


What this means for us is that the breath becomes our opening to cleansing our consciousness (the house from which I came) so those destructive thoughts can no longer rest there, no longer is there a home in our consciousness.  That is the ideal, but it does not always work like that for us because we really kind of like our delusions, don’t we?


What this challenges us to do is carefully examine the negative beliefs we hold about ourselves, and the message is that these are sneaky and tricky.  How is that?  Well the parable tells us that we send these thoughts away and they “wander through the waterless regions” until finding no source of nourishment or sustenance, they return to us!  And then, BAM, here they are again, infesting our consciousness and rooting in even deeper! Why do they find no water elsewhere?  Because it is our thoughts, our beliefs that infest our experience of our life!!  This is a powerful statement that we cannot do our own healing work through someone else.  How is that?


Well, we can demand that someone apologize and admit their offenses, their wrongdoing and when they do, we expect everything to change.  However, if we do not look at our part in the “unclean” spirit experience, then it is likely that the offense will continue and come back 7-fold, the number of human completion. Why?  Because we are quietly, sometimes unwittingly co-operating with maintaining the status quo, often without realizing it.  This is exactly the principle behind the 12-Step program of Al-Anon, which is for the spouse or partner of the alcoholic.  There are behavior patterns in the non-drinking partner, which are part of maintaining the unhealthy behavior, the “unclean” spirit. And it is possible for the partner to change their behaviors even if the alcoholic keeps drinking.


It is the principle behind co-dependency of any kind, which is evident whenever we want someone else to change so that we will feel better.  It is also in play when we want to feel better without doing any real work to change within our own “house.”  It doesn’t even have to involve anyone else.  It happens to me when I think, mistakenly, that I can eat as many cookies as I want and since I have “lost all that weight,” it won’t matter because I am “cured” of my “weight problem.”  I’m just sayin…..I have lost 10 and gained back 20 more than once!!!  It sounds just like the parable, doesn’t it?  The unclean pounds keep coming back because I don’t want to really sit in the fire of the silversmith and look at what makes me a stress eater, an emotional eater.  It is that simple and that difficult all in the same breath.


We breathe every day, all day long whether asleep or awake.  It is an essential part of life, it is what keeps us alive.  For our very breath to become a part of our healing process, we have to wake up, pay attention and recognize whenever the “unclean” breath has taken over, has returned.  It is a bit like getting rid of dandelions or kudzu or creeping Charlie in your yard.  It requires vigilance, focus and attention.  What we like to do is just give all our energy and attention to complaining about the weeds hoping someone else will please notice and do something!  Or we want a magic potion, like Roundup, or diet pills, to do the work, even if it poisons us!  Magical thinking is just that, magic, an illusion, not real.


What we need most is to focus within and find the breath that is the healing breath, the breath beyond our human breath. How do we do that?  Well, the answer comes during our darkest times from what John of the Cross, a mystic, describes in the passage translated by Mirabai Starr:


What we need most

in order to make progress

is to be silent

before this great God

with our appetite

and with our tongue,

for the language

he best hears

is silent love.


—John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, trans. Mirabai Starr


The most critical choice is to be silent and to stay silent for a long enough time that the negative thought forms that disturb our serenity can truly dissolve.  There are times of urgency when we feel compelled to DO something, to sweep out the old beliefs and replace them with constantly repeating affirmations of what we want to think, say and do.  While this can be helpful, the parable tells us this does not actually work. What is most helpful instead, is to focus on the breath and consciously breathe.  When we are in moments of great discomfort, in physical or emotional pain, the most powerful and effective response is to consciously breathe through it.


This is the kind of cleansing breath that reconnects us to Spirit, to that “which is greater than ourselves,” to God.  It is the kind of breath that allows us to sit with the heat that purifies the silver so that the image we see is both our human self and our divine self.  It is the breath of Spirit that creates the space for the Observer self that allows something new to come forth, for “life to recreate itself” in the image of God.  This is not easy or always clear, but the more we practice, the more we recognize when we are in a new place or lapsing into old patterns.  Finally, the old patterns become so uncomfortable, that we don’t go there at all. 


We may think that just sitting in the Silence is a waste of time because we are all so addicted to doing something, focusing on something in meditation.  Focus instead, on the breath, and bring your attention back to the breath again and again.  The breath is neutral in our human experience, so it is the surest way to connect with the energy of God.  Here is how Mirabai Starr says it in Richard Rohr’s blog on May 10, 2022:

          The best thing for the soul to do is to pay no attention to the fact that the actions of her faculties are slipping away. . . . She needs to get out of the way. In peaceful plentitude, let her now say “yes” to the infused contemplation God is bestowing upon her. . . . Contemplation is nothing other than a secret, peaceful, loving inflow of God. If given room, it will fire the soul in the spirit of love.


It is in that fire that our souls are refined into

silver by the alchemy of love.


Blessings on the Path,
Rev. Deb