My early childhood memories–I’m thinking now of my preschool years–are rich and vivid. My five older brothers and sisters would have been at school, weekdays, so I hung out with my mom, hanging on to every word that she said, especially when she prayed.
Her prayers were as beautifully worded as the verses in the King James Bible, which she knew forwards and backwards. Throughout the day, she prayed whenever the spirit moved her.
When my mother prayed–or, for that matter, when she preached–she never focused on the Devil. Instead she put the spotlight on the love of God.
Even so, she fully believed that the Devil was a real force to be dealt with, and she held him fully accountable whenever things went wrong.
When the forces of evil seemed to surround her and close in, she would rise up with the same King James linguistic power with which she prayed and preached, fully ready to take on the Devil who was causing her grief.
Big things. Small things. It didn’t matter. My mother was armed and ready for proper spiritual combat. She never presumed that she had the power to rebuke the Devil. She knew better. She always did so in the name of the Lord.
Maybe the special-occasion cake that she was baking didn’t turn out as it should. Into the trash it would go, all the while I could hear my mother saying, “Satan, you may think that you’ll keep me from baking this cake, but I’ll show you a thing or two! In the name of the Lord, get behind me Satan.” Then she would tackle a second cake.
Or she might be sewing costumes for a school play and the stitching wasn’t going the way that it should. “Satan, in the name of the Lord I command you to get out of this house right now and leave me and my sewing machine in peace.” Afterwards, she would make that sewing machine sing.
On weekends, with all of us at home, the noise might hinder her from praying or from collecting her Sunday-sermon thoughts. “Satan, in the name of the Lord, go. Get out of here.” We kids were usually out the door already, long before my mother sent the Devil on his way with the broom in her hand.
To my young ears, the battles were real. Without a doubt, the Devil was right there in the room, with my mother looking him straight in the eye, determined to stare him down.
And it always seemed that her rebukes in the name of the Lord won. Peace and love and mercy prevailed, if not forever, then at least until the next battle.
Little wonder that I fell in love with one of her several Bibles: The Illuminated Bible (The Good Samaritan Bible), published in Chicago by John A. Dickson Company, 1941. It included not only the Bible but Index and Digest, Collation of Scriptures, Laws of the Hebrew People, Teachings and Sayings of Jesus Christ, Parables of Our Lord, Warnings and Promises, Concordance, Lives of Noted Bible Characters, Maps and Family Records, and, to my great delight as a child who had not yet learned to read: Through the Bible with Pictures.
Through the Bible with Pictures consisted of engravings, if not by Gustave Doré then definitely in his style. The green plate illustration of the Devil was the most frightening image that I had ever seen. It didn’t keep me awake at night, but it scared me to death, and the thrill was such that I kept coming back for more, over and over again.
Recently my oldest sister Audrey sent me my mother’s Dickson Illuminated Bible, used so extensively that the binding is gone and some of the preliminary pages are missing. Until now, I hadn’t looked at that Bible in decades.
My mother’s travels throughout the pages are still apparent.
Written in the margins of several surviving preliminary pages are faded pencil notes in my mother’s hand for a sermon beginning, “The old track walker waved a broken lantern to stop the train.”
Some pages are dog-eared, leaving me wondering: what verses captured her attention on those pages. On other pages, the verses are marked in large parentheses that I still recall as her signature notation.
Her travails and rejoicings are evidenced, too, by tear stains here and there, throughout.
As for evidence of my own travels throughout the pages of that Bible, I had hoped for some kind of childhood scrawl that I might claim as mine. I found none.
However, I may have found more. Something strange. Something surprising. On one of the pages in Through the Bible in Pictures, the lower right quadrant has been torn out. That’s the exact spot where the Devil always stood with his pitchfork and his long serpent tail, waiting for my return visits. I do not recall tearing out that image of Satan. But since I was the youngest and the one most fascinated by that image, I had to be the one who did it.
Who knows. Perhaps as a child, I simply decided to take matters into my own hands and rebuke the Devil in my own way by destroying his image once and forever.
“Get behind me, Satan.”