Plagues of Gnats, Ants, Bats, Dogs, and Wasps
Since Eden Satan has been making use of animals to carry out his attacks. I suppose then it is not altogether surprising he has used animals to carry out his attacks against me as a minister.
When I was first out of seminary I served two churches in a farming area of north Florida. Shade grown tobacco was still grown, but there were also cows, pigs, corn, etc. In August a plague of gnats descended upon the land. They were everywhere including the church building. As I was preaching one Sunday, a multitude surrounded me. As I opened my mouth to speak I got a mouthful of the little creatures. It was not so much the mouthful of the gnats themselves as the thought of where they had been on the nearby farms that troubled me. I believe this was a Satanic attack to try to force me to close my mouth.
When I was a campus minster, and we lived in Hattiesburg, MS, we had a dog named Pokey. There were certain of our students Pokey did not particularly like. One day, when we were having a cookout at our house, I emerged from the kitchen to our back porch to find Pokey barking like he had treed a squirrel and a student standing on our picnic table. We also hosted a Thursday night Bible study for adults. One man who had had an army career was very faithful along with his dear wife. As they approached the back door one night, Pokey was lying in wait near the back gate, and suddenly attacked as though he were coming through that big wooden gate. Our friend was caught so off guard he let loose with a string of words he had probably not used since he got out of the army. Pokey no doubt was demon possessed, but we have had more than a few laughs as we have remembered that night.
In Louisville, Mississippi, a group of us one evening were working to get a building ready to use for worship. Toward sunset I was in the church yard when I had an encounter with fire ants. From past experience I knew this might not be good. We had a doctor in the church, but, he was inconsiderate enough to be home sick. When consulted on the phone, he told the pharmacist, who was also in the church, what to give me. When the pharmacist looked at me, he wasn't sure that the oral medicine would be adequate so, after talking with the doctor on the phone, he sent me to the emergency room. They checked my vitals to make sure I was not going to die on them, but soon they seemed to look at me less as a patient and more like something grotesque from which you cannot turn your gaze. Nurses started coming from various places in the hospital to get a look at me. My face and shoulders were the color of a fire engine, I was broken out in big hives, my lips were swollen to double or more their size, and even my ears were were swollen. All this from 3 or 4 bites on my legs. I believe fire ants are themselves devils.
In the Washington, D.C., area I was preaching away one Sunday night, when people started looking at each other and at me, breaking out into big smiles bordering on laughs. Thinking it was all about me, I tried to continue to preach while trying to review in my mind what I had said so far. I figured I must have said about the stupidest thing ever said by a minister while preaching and that everybody but me knew what it was. Then I looked behind me and bats were flying around the choir loft.
There was our black Labrador retriever whose name was Hunter. For the same church one Saturday morning I was teaching an officer training course in our living room. I had concluded the teaching, and the men were visiting with one another before leaving, when the dog, having been trained in the importance of hospitality, came in to greet the men and promptly peed on an elder nominee's shoes. Later a pastoral search committee from Pittsburgh came one Sunday night. Before church Susan served them a light supper at our house. Hunter showed them warm hospitality, too, but it turned out that one of the female members of the committee was much afraid of dogs and did not regard his greetings as friendly. We got through that without the dog doing anything but causing her discomfort and probably some misgivings about the people with five boys and a big dog.
Then we went to the church for the service. The committee had a video camera so that they could tape the sermon and take it back to show to members of the committee who had not come. They decided to sit in the church balcony and to set the camera up there. I felt things were not going too bad with the sermon when the bats, which had not been seen since the choir loft incident a year or two before, emerged and began to fly over the congregation. Not content with the lower level they flew into the balcony where they began to swoop and dive bomb the two ladies on the Committee. They were bats out of the home of the devil.
Now we come to Roanoke. We have an English Shepherd named Murphy whom Susan got because I am not an adequate conversationalist. Last May I was instituted (or installed) by our Bishop who also is an old friend going back to college. Susan was showing some friends, who had come for the service, around town so after the reception the Bishop and I came to our place to visit until it was time for him to go to the airport. I let Murphy out of his crate, and was preparing to put him on his leash and take him outside, when he decided to welcome the Bishop by taking a dump on the floor. I am glad the devil waited to possess Murphy until after I was officially made Vicar.
This brings me to last Sunday. I preached the homily, which I thought, given the apparent attentiveness of the congregation, had gone better than I expected. I was actually feeling pretty good about it, when I began a brief prayer. Then, as I was praying, I was struck in the butt. I opened my eyes to see what was behind me, and I caught a glimpse of my colleague, Fr. Rich Workowski, sneaking back across the chancel to the Epistle side. While I was still praying I began consider what manner of action this was on his part. Was this pent up frustration as he realized what a mistake it was for him to suggest me as the Vicar? Was it rivalry he had covered up as long as he could? Or, more likely, had I said something he strongly disagreed with? Well, as it turned out it was none of the above. Doing almost the entire time I was preaching a wasp had been crawling on the front of my surplice. Several times as I folded my hands across my stomach I had come close to touching him. Eventually he moved from the front to the back, so, when I began to pray, Fr. Rich took the opportunity to deliver a blow which stunned the instrument of Satan (the wasp, I mean).