Is it just me, or does thinking about this world sometimes leave you with such a feeling of deep sorrow that it depresses your soul and rapidly squeezes the air out of your lungs, leaving you gasping for a breath that never seems to come?
These thoughts flood me every time I see the news. Senseless acts of violence and terrorism hold our world hostage and fear spreads like a wildfire, touching person after person, child after child, mother after mother, brother after brother, sister after sister, father after father, and on and on and on and on and on.
We call it evil, though more and more that word has been diluted by the sheer amount of … well, evil … that tends to fill our lives. I’m not sure what to call it now. I’m not sure how to name it so that it doesn’t seem like that well-worn dirty shirt sitting at the bottom of our laundry basket. So familiar, and so easily forgotten. How do we name something so incomprehensible?
Madeline L’Engle called it “Echthroi” and probably produced, at least for me, the most helpful response about what to do when staring it down:
I Name you Echthroi. I Name you Meg.
I Name you Calvin.
I Name you Mr. Jenkins.
I Name you Proginoskes.
I fill you with Naming.
Be, butterfly and behemoth,
be galaxy and grasshopper,
star and sparrow,
Be caterpillar and comet,
Be porcupine and planet,
sea sand and solar system,
sing with us,
dance with us,
rejoice with us,
for the glory of creation,
seagulls and seraphim
angle worms and angel host,
chrysanthemum and cherubim.
Sing for the glory
of the living and the loving
the flaming of creation
sing with us
dance with us
be with us.
“A Wind in the Door,” Madeline L’Engle
If there’s anything Evil wants–if there is anything Echthroi desires–it’s to remain unknown. To remain in the dark, forgotten, lurking and feeding and hiding and scheming. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why the early biblical story of the Garden depicted Evil as a snake. I’m also sure that’s why Evil continues to destroy and divide and conquer and master, with stunning attention to detail, a hostile takeover of our world and all we know. Because we have trouble naming the Enemy.
Why was J.K. Rowling’s story of Voldemort such an effective analogy for evil? Why was C.S. Lewis’s Aslan such an effective analogy for love? For years artists have been putting into words what we cannot. Evil exists in an unnamed plane. Terror comes from the dark. Love, however, shines most brightly when confidently spoken into existence–when light reveals it in all its glory.
In a world attacked by Echthroi, there seems to be little hope. People offer prayers and condolences and well wishes and peace because these sound good, but they often feel hollow. We know that. But we still say it.
And I think, maybe, that’s where our biggest strength lies.
Our biggest strength is that we trudge about in a world filled with darkness and death and decay and desperately try to love. And this “haze of love” that we send out into the ether is the only way we know how to make sense of a senseless world. And we hope that something will change and the atmosphere will adapt and the haze will become the norm and the darkness will be swept away in a thunderous victory the likes of which only angels and the Divine currently know.
Our prayers aren’t for naught, be they timid or strong, because they say that we hold on to a hope that someway and somehow the darkness will be named and forever blown out of this world. The prayers say that there are people who truly believe in love, even if it is hazy and undetectable at times.
You don’t have to believe in God to know that Good is possible and Good can come and Good is going to win. It’s imprinted on our DNA. It lives in our tears and prayers and messages and activism and outrage. It screams the Name of God louder than any rosary or church service. It is the connection to each other that cries out like a sharp knife to the soul when someone dies.
Atheist or believer, there are two things that connect us: our proximity to evil and our desire for Love. It’s that desire that continues to convince me that Something Better is coming eventually.
Kaitlin Shetler received her bachelor’s degree in social work from Harding University in 2009 and her master’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee in 2010. She currently serves as the director of the ACCESS Ability program at Lipscomb University and is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). Kaitlin has over twelve years experience working with at-risk populations, including survivors of domestic abuse, older adults, and the disabled. She lives in Hermitage, TN, with her brilliant husband and sweet baby girl and attends Hermitage Church of Christ, a community that has welcomed her with open arms and little to no eye rolling. Her passion is working alongside people to better the church and the world through advocacy, service, and dismantling oppressive systems. She often speaks and writes on feminism, abuse, disability, race, and sexual assault within church contexts.