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The night split by lightening, roiled by thunder, throttled by high winds, and drenched by slanting rains feels like menacing spirits on rampage.

Yet with morning, sunlight seeps within the crevices of the pavers in my backyard and begins germinating the seeds deposited by trickster winds. After a few days, the inevitable happens. Patches of crabgrass sprawl aimlessly like the disorders that crop up in my psyche: resentments, fears, self-centeredness, and irritation. Beneath such eruptions lie rioting instincts. Ferreting them out continues to be a humbling practice because of their deep-rootedness.

The question, from whence come these disorders leads to a deeper one: the evil that exists both within and without us.

Jesus speaks to this fact in the parable of the weeds and wheat (Mt. 13). During the night an enemy cast noxious seeds into a farmer’s wheat field; in time, ugly weeds sprouted. Alarmed by this discovery, his servants asked for direction. Lest they pull up the wheat, they were told to leave the weeds alone until the harvest. Then, a reckoning would occur.

Jesus likens the wheat field to the Kingdom of God; the sower, to the Son of Man; the enemy, to the evil one; and the harvest, to the end of the world. Indeed, there will be a reckoning. “The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all… who do evil and throw them into the blazing furnace….”

Thus Jesus’s followers are not to lose heart by evil that serves to hone their skills of Kingdom-living: “They will shine like the sun.…”

 

 

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Imagine the terror of a ten-year-old boy suddenly facing the nozzle of a submachine gun held by an SS soldier, after having been slammed against the courtyard wall with its butt. It was Jo Joffo, waiting for his older brother on the Rue de Russie in Nazi-occupied Nice, France. It was summer, 1942. For over a month nasty inspectors interrogated him and his brother at the Excelsior Hotel until they were finally released. This experience ripped Jo Joffo from his childhood with its games of marbles and jacks, with ringing doorbells and other pranks.

This boy would later become a French author whose 1974 memoir A Bag of Marbles narrates this gripping flight to freedom, a hair-breath away from the enemy. So deep was the memoir’s appeal that it was translated into eighteen languages.

Such stories of survival still speak. From a safe distance, we observe and learn from others who have suffered heart-wrenching losses and survived murderous occupations of their countries. Yet, our times are not that different. Subtle forms of “occupation” still abound: social media, fake news, and addictive substances that manipulate attitudes, thoughts, and choices and keep spirits in bondage to Evil. Indeed, Jesus cautions us whenever we step outside our homes: “Be like sheep among wolves, cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

The Plaza Frontenac Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, is currently showing the second film adaption of this memoir A Bag of Marbles; Christian Duguy directed it with English sub-titles.

Who does not get chills within the bowels of malice in stories of shape-shifting?

One of these is The Soldier’s Tale (1919), the collaborative effort of the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky and the Swiss librettist C. F. Ramuz. Because funds were scarce in the aftermath of the First World War for the composition of large works, Stravinsky scored this old Russian folk tale with seven musicians and four actors/dancers, all sharing the same bare stage. (Check out YouTube.)

We grow to love this war-weary soldier, his knapsack on his back as he cavorts toward his village, all the while anticipating his ten-day leave with his mother and girlfriend. Suddenly, into his path steps the devil, disguised as a maiden who persuades him to exchange the old fiddle (his soul) in his knapsack for a red book filled with secrets for obtaining immense wealth. After three days of luxurious initiation by the devil, the soldier is hooked.

Years of prosperous but increasingly empty living begin to glut the soldier’s passion for fame, and he longs for his old life.

This story line is painfully familiar throughout oral and literary traditions all over the world: All is ours if we but surrender our souls to the devil. A period of unprecedented prosperity ensues until eviscerated by the maggots of worldly success. A longing for the way things used to be glimmers; within its light, some move toward conversion and return to ordinary life.

Others do not, including our soldier of this Russian tale.

 

 

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