There was a boy in my neighborhood whose name was Corey.
Corey was a brat. He was the kind of kid who would go around making mischief and annoying people, anything to get people to look at him and yell at him. He stood across from us in old Mrs. Winner’s yard on the perimeter of the block while I played outside, mocking, teasing, swearing, and when that didn’t work he resorted to more extreme tactics to gain attention.
“Look, a worm!” Corey said one summer afternoon, unbuttoning his fly and wiggling his cock with both hands.
I was unimpressed by the worm. I had little brothers and my friends had even more brothers than me. A penis wasn’t a threat at that age; It was only an item I saw when a diaper was changed or when the boys’ bathroom door was left open. But I was told not to play with Corey after that, and I happily followed that rule.
Corey had a “gang” in the most innocuous sense of the word: a bunch of annoying boys who would chase after him and do little mischief. Sometimes they all stood at the edge of Mrs. Winner’s garden trying to get attention, but I also learned to ignore them.
One day, Corey and his gang disrupted a meeting of our charismatic community.
The charismatics came to our home every other Sunday for an endless hour of prayer and I loathed them. I loathed their loud music with nonsensical lyrics, played improbably on guitar and tambourine. I hated how they would tense up and fall over when they were talking in tongues. I loathed how morally they opposed personal space and insisted on bear hugs no matter how concerned I was. I hated their “prophecies” of persecution and doom, which frightened me greatly and eventually led to a nervous breakdown. I resented the ever-growing list of things I couldn’t do because this or that prophet said it was “of the devil.”
The devil was a ubiquitous and almost omnipotent figure in charismatic renewal. Every bad or mysterious event was blamed on the devil. The devil could enter your body and cause chronic diseases. It could invade your mind and cause anxiety and panic attacks. He could invade your family tree and cause hereditary curses like alcoholism or unemployment. The devil was the reason houses leaked and cars broke. The devil got phone salespeople to call your house at dinner, just as you were about to say grace. Most charismatic prayers have been calling the evil spirits by name and driving them out in Jesus name. If you don’t diligently exorcise the devil from all aspects of your life, you could become a victim of oppression or full blown demonic possession, and then you would go to hell – but first you would shame your family by becoming something horrible as an introvert, a drug addict or a homosexual.
I didn’t like calling demons by their names. I hated when people got together and prayed for me and called demons by name. I didn’t want to be worshiped by gangs, I wanted to be allowed to be alone. So I misbehaved at community prayer meetings. I was rude when people prayed for me. I snorted and poked fun at the lessons the charismatic ladies were preparing to catechize the little children. Eventually, my mother was so frustrated that she “punished” me by doing exactly what I craved: she dropped me off at my Methodist grandparents’ home in Beechwold on Sunday afternoon so I would not be there to see their charismatic to ruin prayers. That’s how I missed seeing Corey’s performance. I heard about it from my dad after it was over.
It was a warm day, so my mother opened the windows before twenty or thirty charismatics showed up for Sunday prayers. They pulled out their guitars and tambourines and, as usual, began howling meaningless hymns of praise and worship at the top of their lungs. Then the noise turned to shouts of praise, babble of tongues, and prophecies. With all the noise, they didn’t notice the thuds hitting the house wall at first – but eventually they realized that they were being bombed. They looked out the window and saw Corey and his friends throwing apples and disrupting the music.
The adults ran outside to confront Corey and his gang who were standing across the alley at the edge of Mrs. Winner’s yard. At the first sign of trouble, they fled, laughing. The adults went inside. That’s when my mom noticed that someone had drawn a smiley face on the dry-erase board in our homeschooling classroom.
My mother immediately became hysterical. She screamed that Corey broke into her house while they were praying. He’d sneaked into the homeschooling classroom and graffitied the dry-erase board just to confuse her mind. This was the only possible explanation. Why he was writing on the dry-erase board and not writing on the walls or carpet with the markers after breaking in and breaking in was not a question she wrestled with; She was too busy panicking.
Finally, one of the charismatics said, “It looks like my child’s drawing,” and indeed it was. One of the charismatic children had drawn a picture for amusement while the adults prayed. Corey hadn’t come into the house at all. He stayed across the alley and threw apples. But after that, it took my mother quite a while to calm down.
Now that I’ve grown up and severed all ties with Charismatic Renewal, I see the world so differently than I used to.
I used to be afraid of everything because everything was a potential channel for demonic possession. People, I thought, are porous and the devil can come and go as he pleases. Now I see it differently.
I see, if the devil even exists, it’s an annoying little boy standing across the alley on old Mrs. Winner’s lawn, taunting him.
“Look, a worm!” says the devil, and I don’t pay attention because there’s nothing interesting about that worm. I’m not supposed to let him play at my house, but it’s not like I’m going to ask him to come over anyway.
The devil may throw an apple now and then, but he won’t come into the house. The house is mine. I belong to me, not to the devil. The devil stays across the street.
When I find something inappropriate in my house, I need to find a more logical explanation. Go to the doctor or therapist, don’t have an exorcism done. I might not even be able to figure out what’s going on, but I know it’s not the devil. The devil is outside waving his member at me. I don’t have to be careful.
Of course, I don’t let the charismatics in either, but that’s another story.
Image via pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Maryand Stumbling Into Grace: How We Meet God in Small Works of Mercy.
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