Yesterday morning the passage I was reading (for my own edification) before my prayer time was the healing of the demoniac from Luke 8. For some reason the snippet that impressed itself on me was the fact that the demons infesting the man called Legion 'begged Jesus not to order them to go into the abyss'. From there I turned to my copy of the compilation of spiritual writings, Celebrating the Seasons, which offered me an excerpt from St Augustine's Confessions. 'Indeed, Lord, to your eyes, the abyss of human consciousness is exposed'. There was no question as to what would form the matter of my meditation later on (it's not always as clear, or as substantial, as that).
Leaving aside all questions as to what the demons really are or what they mean, why do they fear the 'abyss' and want to escape it? I've heard it argued that the unclean spirits, assuming there are such things, yearn to elbow their way into human beings so that they can, through them, enjoy the bodily lusts which as spirits they cannot exercise by nature; which is all well enough, but can't be found in Scripture. If, as Augustine suggests, the abyss is in fact the depth of our true nature, however, you can see why the demons fear it. Our lusts - our 'inordinate desires' - are a means, for us humans, of avoiding the truth about who we really are, and it's the same for them. In the abyss, as in the desert, the desert we enter spiritually in Lent to confront reality at its starkest, we are stripped of illusions and delusions and have no choice but to face the truth. The demons' stock-in-trade is lying and deceit: untruth about what they are and what we are, too. If they were banished away from their distractions into the 'abyss', they would have to face the truth about what they were and had done. They might repent, and no longer be demons. And that they fear. As, all too often, we do.