Get Behind Me, Satan!

“We kids were usually out the door already, long before my mother sent the Devil on his way with the broom in her hand.”

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.”

10 thoughts on “Get Behind Me, Satan!

  1. I wasn’t sure where you were going with this, but what a wonderful read! I wonder, though, if you tore out the image or if it were your mother who did instead. Perhaps it was an attempt to physically remove him, as you suggested of yourself, or perhaps it was a mother’s nurturing nature who was aware of her child’s return visits. If so, I’d like to think she exclaimed “Get behind him, Satan!” instead in keeping with her spiritual instruction. :-)

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    • I am so glad that you enjoyed the post! I love your speculation that my mother might have removed the image of Satan so that it wouldn’t be there to bother me on my return visits! She might well have done something like that in any book other than the Bible: she would never–absolutely never–tear a page from a holy book such as the Bible, not even part of a page. But even if she would have done such a thing–and she would not have–she would have turned it into a learning moment for me, by sitting me down and having a full conversation! Nonetheless, I am charmed by your conjecture! Thanks!

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  2. Your mother was so delightful! I love your stories about her.

    My family had an illustrated Bible, too, and I remember being fascinated by similar pictures to yours. The one that frightened me the most had masses of dark billowing clouds racing down upon the earth.

    I gave up on religion many many years ago, but to this day I’m uneasy that an approaching thunder storm might herald Armageddon.

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    • My mother was incredibly delightful, and I find that she ends up more and more in my essays, sometimes even when I do not have her in mind when I start writing! Obviously, with this post she was front and center stage! Thank you, Bonnie!

      I wonder whether your family had a Dickson Bible, too? It was–and remains–quite popular.

      I love thunderstorms, but it has never occurred to me that one might herald Armageddon! Oh, my!

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  3. I can see you now, with a mohawk, tearing out the pages! I know the missing pages can not be replaced but have you thought about having it rebound?

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    • Thanks, Janet!

      You conjure up a wonderful image! In all likelihood, I would have been several years younger, sporting my buzz cut!

      I love your idea of having the Bible–such as it is–rebound. Perhaps I will even tip in a copy of this post!

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  4. Such a wonderful read! I am so glad you have those memories to look back on. I cannot lie – I am a little jealous as I just do not remember a whole lot about my childhood and wish so much that I did. I remember small pieces, little glimpses here and there, but nowhere near as much as I would like. I do remember that I used to read the comics to my little sister every Sunday and the time we swear Momma killed a lizard by scaring it so bad it had a heart attack. It was on her notepad when she went to pick it up so she screamed and threw the notepad. A few minutes later when Daddy went to get the lizard, it was dead. Too funny. :)

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    • Thanks for sharing your own funny lizard story! That is hilarious!

      Perhaps it will be with you as it has been with me: as I get older, I remember more and more of my early childhood. What a joy!

      I’m betting that if you were to start writing about the memories that you do recall, more memories would follow! Give it a try!

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  5. I can picture that green Satan image. If I recall, he had a long beard, fiery eyes, malevolent smile, and a speared tail. I think he was staring down into a fiery pit. He certainly scared the bejesus out of me!

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