© Another Day in the Country
Growing up in the Christian fold, the Devil was always a very real presence. We were taught that it was the Devil who tempted us into doing anything bad and that we always had to be on guard against his evil influence. The grand excuse for wrongdoing, especially if you were now converted or contrite, was “The Devil made me do it.” It was as if we were out of our depth whenever the Devil was around.
Of course, in that church genre, we also knew where the Devil liked to hang out. And, there was a certain logic to it: pool halls, bars, gambling dens, horse races, or any betting establishment, dark streets, wrong part of town, etc. For the child of conservative parents, there was a longer list of places that the Devil liked to frequent which included movie theaters and bowling alleys. “Stay away from these places,” my parents admonished, “you don’t want to be on the Devil’s playground.”
Anything unknown or not understood was often attributed to the Devil. Hypnotism was one of those phenomena that the Devil got credit for. I remember, as a child, when an enterprising mercantile store in the town where we lived invited a hypnotist (in the 1950s) to hypnotize people in their big display window on Main Street.
A crowd quickly gathered around on the sidewalk as the practitioner spoke to his client, seated in a comfortable chair, “Nothing will disturb you but the sound of my voice,” he said, over and over in a soothing tone. Of course, since it was intended as a spectacle, once hypnotized the person was asked to do all kinds of silly things which they wouldn’t ordinarily do.
“Come on now,” my mother said to me, “don’t even listen to that — it’s all from the Devil.” Well, that put the fear of the Lord in us, but we were still curious. Years and years later, when I was training to be a therapist, I ran into all kinds of disciplines that had been attributed to the Devil.
What is it that makes a word or a phrase become a “family thing?” Maybe it’s a shared story, some tingle of fear up and down your spine, an unknown that we are a little skeptical of. For sure, the Devil’s name attached makes you sit up and take notice, and that phrase, “Nothing will disturb you but the sound of my voice,” became a family phrase synonymous with “be good” or “something a little spooky is about to get you.”
I remember the first time someone said that they didn’t believe in the Devil, that it was a made-up concept intended to frighten people. “If there’s a devil,” my friend said, “it’s something you made up.” I was rather shocked at the idea, at first. The idea that we conjure up evil the same way we attribute good was rather mind-boggling. I had to think about that one, meditate on it; but then again my family was a little spooked about “meditation” too, back then. There also were big questions about yoga — coming as it did from halfway around the world.
Folk often believed that sickness came from the Devil — anything in the afflictions category; but then again God was also accountable for bad things happening to good and bad people at random in a rather undiscriminating way — a concept that ran around for ages before germs were recognized.
When it comes right down to it, name it what you will, so much in life is unexplainable, miraculous, unfathomable. Just now as I was typing I spelled unfathomable with an ‘n’ instead of an ‘m’ and spell check came up asking me if I didn’t want to fix the error in my typing. I did! That’s what I’d like life to be like — if we get a wrong idea, name something wrongly, even putting a capital letter when it should be lower case (with all its attendant meanings) I want a little cursor to appear saying, “Here’s the right way to look at that. Do you want to fix it?”
That little cursor, I’ve come to believe, is our emotions, springing up like a river, a constant barometer of our well-being. It’s our soul talking to us, that still small voice; but we get so used to denying, stuffing down, not paying attention, keeping busy, that the cursor stops appearing immediately so that we can course correct.
Remember last week and the printer misbehaving? I’d no more than sent my column to the Marion County Record and suddenly that machine started working like a charm — still won’t copy, but it’s printing away with enthusiasm.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into that thing,” my sister mumbled, “it’s just possessed by little demons.”
Oops, there’s that Devil again, cropping up in the unknown, inadvertently being blamed for anything we don’t understand or know about on another day in the country.