“So what happened next?”
“He came through the doorway and stared at me.”
“He started to beat me with his fists. Then he grabbed at me. But it wasn’t like being grabbed by a man, I could see him grabbing my spirit. He had one hand around my neck and was pulling on it. It stretched out, I could see him pulling it out. Then it snapped back. That hurt my head and my feet.”
“Where was Sister B?”
“She was beside me in the bed at first. She could not see him, but she could see me struggling and later she told me she knew what it was. She got out of bed and knelt down and started praying.”
“Wow. How long did this go on?”
“It was about 30 minutes.”
From age 8 to 19, I was the only kid my age in the local ward. There were 4 or 5 boys a year older and several a year or two younger. Consequently, I moved through those Mormon male milestones in a cohort of one. Like joining the deacons quorum. As an 11 year old, my 13 year old acquaintances took some pleasure in feeding me information that only a credulous kid like me would entertain. So when I heard about Bishop B’s stories, I didn’t know what to think.
Now Bishop B. was fundamentally a practical man. The son of German immigrants, and a skilled artisan, his home was roughly in back of ours, on the other side of the alley that ran down the middle of the block. His yard was neat, well kept and shady, but as you can imagine, at that age I wasn’t a connoisseur of landscapes. Pushing a lawnmower was about as far as that went. Up until age 12 or so, I really didn’t pay much attention to the bishop or his counselors.
Near my 12th birthday, I had a certain dread, and anticipation, of joining the trek to morning priesthood meeting. This was before the “block” schedule. It was then that I began to hear the stories.
Stories of the Devil.
We have all kinds of narratives in Mormonism that hinge on a personal devil. Someone who is the ultimate in rejecting God, black to God’s white. Sneakily worming his way into our lives, leading us carefully down to Hell. Or sometimes showing up in person. Yeah, a fair amount of scripture on that one.
Bishop B. had experience, so the story went, personal experience with Old Scratch himself. I had fear and fascination over the possibilities. Bishop B., and later I learned, his counselors, felt it was incumbent on him to spread the warning. That being who fell from heaven was still in action.
After I was ordained a deacon, I finally heard Bishop B. tell his own story. No one had exaggerated. I mean it was just down right scary. Bishop B. was a bad boy in his youth. He didn’t tell us just how bad, but dabbling in the occult, the evils of gambling and sex, and so on. His own Bishop, whose name I knew from my father’s talks about old times in the area, had cursed Bishop B. as a young man. Turned him “over to the buffetings of Satan.” Just those words apparently.
“We were going to a restaurant after I had begun to return to church and as we got to the door, I saw him standing just inside the glass. I told Sister B., ‘we can’t go in there, he will kill me if we do.'”
“What did she say?”
“She knew who I was talking about. We drove back home.”
“What did he look like?”
“He was a very handsome tall man. Well dressed for that time.”
Bishop B. was an older man and he was about 5’4″. He’d been bishop since the ward was organized, probably about 15 years or so (the ward was split from another, and was still huge by today’s standards). His first counselor replaced him about the time I moved into the teachers quorum (age 14). His stories marked me. I’ve never forgotten them, and the look on his face when he related them. I know he considered them as real as the red armchair in his living room. This was the Mormon devil. The one you could find in Mormon sacred space in the day.
I have to say though, that those stories didn’t affect my behavior much on balance. But perhaps they did add a little reluctance to the semi-rural teen ethic–anything goes—thing that my friends and I experienced. There were places and distances I wasn’t ready to go or traverse and maybe part of that was the memory of Bishop B. Hard to say from here. One thing I did come away with was a sincere belief in the Devil. He was real in some way I didn’t fully understand but real none the less. And he might engage in fisticuffs. Or hide behind doors.
Keep the lights on.