Friday, October 08, 2004

What I Learned at Vacation Bible School III

On the last night of the Living Vacation Bible School all the cast and characters and kids gathered for a big helium balloon release on the front lawn. All the cast came in costume. There was John the Baptist with locusts on his hairy coat. There was Peter, and Abdul the rappin’ money changer. There was Blind Bart and Mary Magdelene. And Satan.

Being adults and therefore thinking like rational grown up adults, we were kind of slow on the uptake when we decided to have all the cast come in costume. Because, you see, if we had thought about it, it would have dawned on us that if some of the kids thought I was Jesus they would think Dan was Satan. And they did. I looked up and saw one of the staff coming toward me with a small child in tow. He toddled along a half step behind her, a death grip on the young lady’s hand, and looking back over his shoulder every few steps. They stopped in front of me and she picked him up. “Joshua’s afraid.” she said, “and he wanted to see you.” I reached out and took him from her arms, his head was turning like a balloon in a windstorm. He was obviously looking for someone. “What’s the matter, Joshua?” I asked him.
“The devil is back. He’s here. I saw him,” he said pointing into the crowd.
“I tried telling him it’s not really the devil, that it’s just a man in a costume, but he’s still scared,” the young girl said, shrugging her shoulders.

“Joshua . . ..”I said. Then I didn’t know what to say. The first thing that came to my mind, truly, was “Don’t worry, the devil won’t hurt you.” No. I thought, that just doesn’t sound right. (Not only didn’t it sound right but I fear now it really betrays our adult thinking about Satan: you know the truth comes out under pressure like that.) Then I thought: I’ll take him to Dan and show him that it is just a disguise, that Dan is really a nice guy and he and I are friends. But that didn’t seem right either. Jesus and Satan buddies? Satan is really a nice guy underneath his disguises? Nah… Strike two. Another bad idea.

Then it dawned on me. “Joshua!” I said with an air of authority, “you remember what happened Monday night when I chased the devil away?” He nodded, his little forehead still furrowed with fear. “O.K. This is all you have to do if the devil comes near you. You just look him straight in the eye and you say, ‘You devil, in the name of Jesus, get lost!’” Joshua looked at me, his eyes widened and his face broke into a big grin. He wiggled to get down and I set him on the ground. He looked up at me, still grinning, and said with glee, “Yeah!” and ran off shouting, “In the name of Jesus, get lost you devil!”

By the end of the evening Dan had been rebuked several times by children with faith that Jesus’ name alone would protect them from the evil one.

I wonder how many times a day Satan gets rebuked by grown-ups with faith like a child’s? Probably not many. We are too sophisticated to believe in a “real devil”, we are too philosophical, psychological and theological for such a simplistic answer to the problem of temptation to do evil. But in all of our sophistication we are still too weak to resist temptation. Armed with all of our therapies, philosophies and theologies we still walk out with the stuff the cashier missed, lie about the traffic, make the lunch date with the co-worker, call in sick, conveniently “forget”, and speak our minds. Maybe all we really have to do is what Jesus did and say, “Begone, Satan. I’m with God.” Maybe what James said is true, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Maybe it really is just that simple.

Oh, for the heart of a child again.


Mary Brigid said...

You're right, of course; it really is that simple. Unfortunately, what we lose in our sophistication is the ability to see the devil behind the temptation.

I'm currently re-reading the Philokalia, vol. 1, and the saints quoted therein speak at length of guarding the heart, being the watchman on our own walls so that we SEE the threat and repulse it BEFORE it has the chance to catch our fancy and thus ensnare our desires. And the role of the Jesus prayer in keeping the watchman attentive. Very useful stuff. I actually found myself addressing the devil, laughing, as I realized he had pulled a VERY sneaky backdoor manuver (sp?) to tempt me into something I was really very specifically working against doing.

"Very clever," I laughed. "Good one. Now go away. Mother of God, protect me!"

And the temptation did indeed flee. Would that I could be that attentive ALL the time, but God allowed this so I could see how it worked, I think; sort of a "lab" after the "theory lesson" of my reading of the night before. GBG!

Thanks for a great post!

Mary Brigid

Elizabeth said...

Hi s-p
This is gorgeous.
I will try verbally rebuking satan the next time I am tempted :-)

Fr Christian Mathis said...

Great story Steve!