Inquiry:  Exorcism, Fear, Tree Hugging & Talking to God

by LJ Frank


There are some events in life we keep to ourselves for years and may never reveal. Other events have a prescient quality given the context of the moment and seem worth writing down.  

I had the opportunity to attend an unofficial “exorcism” conducted by a now deceased friend and “retired” Jesuit priest. It involved a devoutly religious person who was experiencing some disturbing, violent dreams followed by physical trembling and actions of which her family found unsettling. The family thought the woman should be exorcised of her demons. My Jesuit friend who knew the family thought otherwise but he agreed to meet with her and invited me to be an observer.

I had encountered my future friend years before while consulting on a library related project. He had worked in Asia and Central America like me and occasionally took on roles that were not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church but rather requested by word of mouth based on his experience and knowledge. His theology credentials were complimented by studies in clinical psychology. We established an intellectual friendship that lasted over the years.

The ritual was simple, direct, and unlike anything one might conjure in their imagination. He introduced me to the family and the woman. The woman in question exhibited episodes of body tremors, sweating, crying spells and actions like walking naked outside and talking to God while hugging a tree, as her family explained.

During our visit he held her hand while sitting next to her as she was reclined. There were long moments of silence and just being there was having a calming effect. The lighting in the room was mostly subdued and from the windows except for three lit candles. She had a singular outburst of sobbing followed by quiet.  He softly asked her a few questions and asked her and me to join him in the Lord’s Prayer. He wanted to give a prayer she could identify with and help her remain relaxed.

She exhibited an abundance of fear when speaking. Her fears were complicated but real to her. She was filled with fears based on superstition that were fed into by her family and friends.

By the end of the first hour or so, he asked us to walk with him outside where there was a small garden. We walked and he asked her to share her experiences. There was some anger with her family. As we walked, she revealed some of her initial fears of the unknown and known. By the end of the second hour we returned to her room and he spoke with the family.

He cautioned the family to allow her more space and acceptance and told them he recommended to her a doctor for some medicine and therapy if she agreed to it. He also thought the family might consider some counseling for her sake. He warned them about feeding into her fears. He noted he found nothing unusual about her actions, especially considering her expressed fears and wishes to be closer to God in a natural state. He was concerned about how fear debilitates a person.

Later after we departed, we sat at a coffeeshop and he filled me in more on his knowledge of the family, their lack of a well-rounded education, and the effect of very strict upbringing. She didn’t have evil spirits within her. Exorcism he said was a psychological-spiritual tool with questionable therapeutic value. He questioned its case history.

He also suggested that to exorcise our mind means we seek a grounding and possible therapy. Self-acceptance and self-affirmation can be life long. And no one is born equal in mind or body. Her burdens were linked to the context of her life, family, and associates and how she had been programmed through her education and growing years. Fear can stunt our growth. He said he didn’t deny evil, on the contrary, but believed much of the issues people encounter emanates from the context in which they were birthed, raised, educated, and live within and how their mind interprets them. He noted his worry about the amount of misinformation people succumb too.

The distress caused by fear is layered and varies with the person suffering from it. Fear is also a calculated tactic employed by those wishing to manipulate and otherwise control another person(s). It occurs in all walks of life.

The reasons for fear are innumerable.  We are bombarded with images of violence, a nuclear holocaust, irreversible climate change, diseases, homelessness, and the existential nature of existence. The fears are real and have an evidentiary basis. Yet when the fears stem from family and closest of friends and when we are also beguiled by religious superstition over and above love, the damage of fear on the mind and body can be fatal

The lack of love, nurturing, and knowledge are siblings’; our bodies and minds need all three to be able to live in peace with ourselves and others. Otherwise, our heart and conscience are strangled with fear clogging the arteries of reason.

As we departed company he looked towards a nearby grove of trees. “Tolerance,” he uttered in his low baritone voice, then took a deep breath and added with a smile, “Perhaps we should go naked, hug a tree and talk to God.”