Get Thee Behind Me, Satan!
Get Thee behind me, Satan!
“In all things, let us bless the Lord!” Amen.
Get Thee behind me, Satan! Growing up in a very conservative family, evenly split between Catholics and Pentecostals, hearing this phrase (usually hollered by my maternal Grandmother of blessed memory) would send shivers up and down my spine.
I must admit, being cursed with an almost sinful sense of curiosity, the more cantankerous side of me would also be trying to sneak a look over Grandma’s shoulder to see what Satan looked like.
Grandma Massingale had a clearly defined sense of what was evil. If it was mentioned as evil in her King James version of the bible (because that is what her church taught was the verbatim word of God), it was to be “cast out.” It didn’t matter to her, as I pointed out after finishing a biblical history course, that King James was a person of loose morals and, frankly, this was all a translation that he funded. And since it was a translation, English could not have been the “given” word of God. But to her, if it was in there, it was truth.
The Oxford Dictionary defines evil, when used as an adjective, as something that is profoundly immoral and wicked, a force or spirit that embodies or associates with the forces of the devil, something harmful or intended to harm, and the smell or sight of something extremely unpleasant. This is pretty strong language. But do we really feel this way today?
As I was working through my feelings about our Gospel reading, Charlie said something to me in passing … that, as we say down home, “stuck in my craw.” Charlie warned me against personifying evil. He went on to explain that this is a tactic used by very conservative Christians to vilify whomever they are fighting against at the moment. This really caused me to pause and consider my upbringing. While spouting Matthew 7, verse 1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” many members of my family would “out” relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances as evil. And in my family, if an older relative said it, it was the unquestioned truth. It wasn’t until my radical late 20’s, while living in Amsterdam, and during my regular meetings with my religious mentor … (at that time the Bishop of the North Sea – now a defunct diocese – but the source of many a giggle between my Dutch friends … think of St. Anthony of Padua preaching to the fishes except insert oil wells for as far as the eye can see…), that I started to come to terms with my family’s definition of evil. I still struggle with it.
It is easy to personify evil. “That person is just evil!” in my family, would open the door to a laundry list of sins. As I grew older, I knew that my family, because of my sexual orientation, included me in that list. It bothered me. It still happens today even though my relationship, now a marriage, has lasted longer that many of theirs. I remain evil.
So, while dealing with the deep and painful emotions behind this, my thought process was led to a new place. If we are all “shaped in iniquity; and in sin did our mother’s conceive us” as the Psalmist says in Psalm 51, what hope is there? How can I stand a chance at redemption? Can my perceived faults be improved? Are my faults evil? Am I doomed?
Again, my Catholic and Pentecostal upbringing kicked in. 2nd Timothy, chapter 2 states, “Study to show thyself approved unto God.” So back to the drawing board I went.
I took stock. I try to be a good person. I attempt (and often fail) to control my inner diva. The choir will confirm that I remind them often that “I am indeed famous” and they should just do what I say. I try to love everyone unconditionally. But I also fail at this quite regularly. I do my best to follow every rule that I have been given. My therapists call this “the best little boy in the world syndrome.” But I still have this deep seeded fear that I am evil because I am not the man that my heritage determined was godly.
Enter my Episcopal/Church of England training begun 27 years ago in Amsterdam and still continuing today. . . I live for the promise of Easter. I live in the realization that Jesus Christ took on my faults on the cross at Calvary. I live in the realization that he preached unconditional love and that love covers all my doubts, all my fears, and all my pain. I feel God’s love in the structure of our worship, in the readings, in the preaching we hear, in the learning happening all around us, in the singing of our hymns – yes, every verse, in the anthems sung by our wonderful choir, and in this wonderful heritage of ours that stands for social justice, human dignity, and peace. In all of this, I find hope. In all of this, I find God’s love. In all of this, I find my reason to continue.
So, during this Lent, I am taking a personal inventory of sorts, and am using Grandma’s way of battling evil albeit it a little modified, to help me ready myself for the promise of Easter. Feel free to join me if one or more of these bother you as well! This is my litany…
· When I doubt my faith… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I lose my temper and harm others… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I refuse to listen before speaking… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I belittle another’s gifts and forget that all are called to serve… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I forget to honor my spouse for his immense love and patience… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I surrender to my still, ever-present homophobia… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I despair… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I despair due to my disappointment in the actions of others… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I am not appreciative of all you all do for me… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I forget that my parents and grandparents are and were human… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I complain about the “needs” of Lent… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I forget that I am blessed… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I lose sight of my worth and struggle to survive… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
· When I forget the promise of Easter… Get Thee behind me, Satan!
I leave you with a few verses from my favorite psalm – Psalm 51, verses 10 - 12. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Let us all say, Amen.