On a day when so many are telling ghost stories and watching horror films, I thought you might appreciate a true story about why I steer away from anything of the sort.
Oh, I used to love a good movie around Halloween. Especially about demonic possession or evil incarnate. Not anymore. Because now I’ve experienced the real thing. And I’d just as soon steer clear of any reminders.
A few years after converting to Catholicism, I had an experience that I will never forget. This was a dangerous moment where I actually played footsie with darkness. It is a moment I will never repeat. And for the rest of my life I will be thankful for God’s almost immediate but very loving rebuke.
There was nothing particularly notable about the day. A good friend and I were wandering through Barnes and Noble with our little ones strapped into their strollers. We’d just made our way from the train tables, where our boys had worn themselves out in “Thomas the Tank Engine heaven”, to the Religion section, where we hoped to browse a bit before they found their second wind.
Out of the blue, my friend – I’ll call her “Sarah” – pointed across the way with her finger. Her eyes were fixed on the ground while her finger pointed straight ahead. In hushed tones, she said, “They have one here.”
“What?” I asked. I had no idea what she was talking about, but her odd behavior had me perplexed.
She was visibly nervous as she gestured frantically in the direction of a shelf positioned perpendicular to the aisle in which we were standing. Almost in a whisper, she said, “A Satanic Bible. They have one here.”
Recently she and I had had a discussion, wherein she told me that she had known someone with a Satanic Bible in high school. I was shocked. I never knew such a thing existed, much less could I imagine that anyone would actually OWN one. “Wow,” I said at the time. “Does it look like a regular book? Is it written in English? Who would write such a thing?!” I had more questions than she had answers, so she must have figured this was her chance to show me in person that, yes, there was such a thing, and yes, it looked like a regular book.
While she did see fit to point toward the book, Sarah clearly had no intention of looking at it herself. Rather than even turn in the direction she had pointed, Sarah cowered in a corner making the sign of the cross.
I was not so easily flustered. Having no fear whatsoever, I marched right over to the bookshelf, scanning it for a so-called ‘Satanic Bible.’ It didn’t take long. Looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit there was something rebellious in me that wanted the opposite posture from what I had seen in my friend. I’ll admit it. I had an attitude. In my mind, this was a book. Nothing more. And I was going to show Sarah that, while I was curious to see what a Satanic Bible looked like, actually looking at one was no big deal.
Purposefully but casually, I slid the book from the shelf and flipped it over in order to read the back. What I saw can only be described as the most horrifically evil photo I’ve ever encountered. I cannot provide details. In fact, I’m thankful to share that Our Lord has placed a veil over my memory of that picture. All I can recall is its evil nature. I have no distinguishing features to offer. And don’t imagine that I examined the back of the book or flipped through pages to learn more. As soon as I saw the face on the back cover, I nearly threw the book back onto the shelf, unable to remove my fingers from it fast enough.
With my hands still burning, and wanting only to erase that awful image from my mind, I turned and walked quickly back to Sarah, who had busied herself staring at some unremarkable section of books as she made the sign of the cross yet again. I know she would have given anything to have holy water in that moment.
As a fairly recent convert, I was practically rolling my eyes at my friend, the cradle Catholic. Yes, it was evil. No, I didn’t want anything to do with it. But it WAS only a book. I couldn’t imagine having such a reaction – and despite being disturbed by the image, making the sign of the cross at the time seemed almost silly to me. So I didn’t.
Once I ditched the book, my only thought was that Sarah seemed to be over-reacting just a bit. I didn’t like what I saw, but I felt she was taking things a little too far.
Apparently God disagreed. What happened next was purely Divine Providence. And it completely cured me of any curiosity at all related to the “dark” side of life.
We had been at Barnes and Noble on a Friday. The very next day, Saturday, I was scheduled to attend a Catholic homeschool conference just south of Chicago. Please keep in mind that I’ve homeschooled for 15 years. Every summer since my first year, I have attended a homeschool conference. Every year, the keynote speaker has something to do with parenting or teaching. But that day, as I entered the conference and received my schedule, I was shocked when I read about the keynote speaker. You’re not going to believe this.
He was an exorcist.
I am not kidding.
This priest gave one of the most rousing talks I’ve ever heard about Satan and his activities. He emphasized with every breath the need to avoid anything related to the occult and about the dangers that one risks if she allows herself to brush up against darkness. He shared personal experiences with demonic activity that were the result of innocent curiosity. I was stunned. This priest was speaking to ME.
There was no doubt in my mind that this good priest was actually a stand-in for God, Himself, who clearly wanted to send me a message in no uncertain terms. From all eternity, He had planned this moment to teach me a very important lesson. To remind me that the invisible world is full of creatures much stronger and smarter than I. And that some of them are out to destroy me.
As soon as the talk concluded, I hightailed it to the speaker and shared my experience from the day before. I was no longer blasé about those moments I spent in the vicinity of a Satanic Bible. Now I was scared.
After hearing my story, Father assured me that I was probably OK, provided I had learned my lesson. But to be safe, he directed me to head upstairs to the chapel, where there was a large holy water font, and to wash my hands in the holy water without drying them off. He told me to go deep – all the way to my elbows – and he urged me to wash lavishly, and to finish by making the sign of the cross.
I can assure you that I did. And never again have my hands felt as crisp and clean and cool as they did on that day, when, along with any semblance of evil, I washed away all fascination with darkness and any curiosity about the occult that might have remained.
Needless to say, if you and your kids come knocking on our door tonight, you’ll find some happy pumpkins and a welcoming scarecrow. No witches or goblins here. And if you wish to join us, you may find a happy owl and a mad scientist bobbing for apples with a few of their friends. But no gore. Nothing scary. We don’t play footsie with darkness around here. I’ve had my share. And believe me – my kids have heard all about it!