The miracle of Christmas from a horror writer’s perspective…
This time of year, I see a lot of signs and bumper stickers that declare we need to “put the Christ back in Christmas.” Even if you’re not a Christian, I’m sure you can agree that the birth of Christ is the true reason for the season. It’s just a matter of historical perspective. The secularization of the holiday has created a backlash, though it gets drowned out by frantic shopping, bright lights, and lying to children that elves on shelves and fat old men are watching their every move. We CAN put the Christ back in Christmas, if the Catholic church so desires. I’m going to propose a very unconventional way to go about it.
Faith seems to be in very short supply these days. It gets harder and harder to keep the faith as we are bombarded with more and more distractions. Our 24/7 news cycle is designed to only show us the worst of humanity and the unfairness of life. It’s not only depressing as hell, it also makes you question whether there can be a Creator God who would allow such things to happen to his (or her) children. Add to that an abundance of material and opinions on religious history and it gets to the point that you don’t know who or what to believe. So what do you need to pull your head from the orgy of Christmas excess to the true meaning of this time of year?
And like I said, faith is getting pretty hard to come by.
Even during the time that Jesus walked the earth (kinda like Kung Fu) and was performing miracles, there was a lack of faith. The Apostles and his disciples needed constant reminders of his divine origin. Remember good old Doubting Thomas?
From John 20:24-29 :
24 Now Thomas , one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Thomas, who was alive when Jesus was healing the lame, turning water into wine, and bringing the dead back to life, still needed concrete proof. His faith wasn’t strong enough, even though JC was in his midst doing what JC did best. Thomas needed that extra bit of proof.
So why are we expected to have so much faith two-thousand years and endless atrocities later? It’s nice to be blessed, but it isn’t easy to attain, even now, during what is supposed to be one of the happiest and most holy times of the year.
People need proof. And short of the second coming (which, if you believe the prophecy, will not be all wine and roses), we need concrete evidence of divine forces working here on earth. You might say “we need miracles!” and run to your book of saints, pointing out the oodles of miracles performed in their names over the centuries. Or the stigmata of Padre Pio, who was with us all the way until 1968, stunning believers and non-believers alike. Tales of angelic intervention and miracle cures abound.
But it’s not enough to cut through the noise. Not for us. Not for this world we’ve shaped.
We feed off the negative. I know it’s hard to say, but it’s true. If we didn’t, our newscasts would be vastly different, Jerry Springer would have been on the air for 25 days, not years, and civil discord would be the norm, not the exception.
So, in light of what we are and what we need, I propose this:
Show us an honest to God exorcism.
We have endless ways to document and record the fantastical feats performed by the possessed. From speaking in strange languages in bizarre voices, to vomiting objects such as nails, insects and small animals (people have been known to throw up frogs and mice), levitation, and so much more, these are things that will frighten us into belief. Imagine the visuals and audio of an exorcism, presented to us not just through tacit approval of the Catholic church, but also independent sources (especially if we can get an atheist on board, which shouldn’t be hard to find in the media).
I was told by a monsignor that had performed several exorcisms that true evil does exist. We all know that. We see it, and want to see it, everyday. What we need proof of is that evil exists as an entity separate from man. We may not be able to see the good around us, but if you take the time to show us the bad, people will take notice. Film a miracle and I doubt it will make the news (if it does, it will have X-Files music playing in the background). Show the terrors of an exorcism in living color, and it will be the headline story.
All of this says more about us (and me), than it does about God (or whatever name you want to hang on the entity that made us…if you believe). But as any parent will tell you, we learn through fear. Parents instill a fear of putting your hand on a hot stove, leaping off the edge of the tub, talking to strangers, taking drugs, and hundreds of other things. That fear keeps us safe. If you want the most incredible Christmas in history (okay, the second most), frighten us. Put the fear of God and the Devil in us. Prove to us what awaits a shallow, secular life and we will sing praises, open our hearts to love, and spread joy at Christmas. We will believe because just like Thomas, we will have been given proof. Maybe we won’t be as blessed as those who never needed proof, but we’ll be on the right path.
Sure, this won’t work for everybody. Nothing can. People will claim the proof is fake, or a ploy to get fannies to fill church pews. There’s no such thing as a cure all. But the impact will be seismic. Is it sad we have to cater to our base nature to elevate our souls? Perhaps. Or maybe we just have to accept what we are and find a way to improve our lot in life (and the afterlife), no matter how much it makes us cringe.
Maybe we’re the little Whos down in Whoville that needed proof of evil in the form of that nasty Grinch to strip away the distractions and noise and show us that we better get our acts together. His heart may have grown three sizes that day, but what impact did his evil have on them?
Something to consider.
And speaking of the Grinch, I’ll leave you with Dr. Seuss’s parting words:
“Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.”
The recent disclosure of a series of exorcisms performed on the children of the Ammons family in Indiana have a lot of people not only scratching their heads, but considering the reality of true evil. I’m well aware that many people are also rolling their eyes in disbelief. I mean, the stories of what happened to that poor family are pretty hard to wrap your head around. It makes The Exorcist look like an ABC family movie. But what if it’s true?
The possessed children in this case were ages 7, 9 and 12. Witnesses that included police, doctors, nurses and representatives of the Department of Child Protective Services all saw things that defied their versions of reality. The kids reportedly levitated, walked backwards up a wall and onto the ceiling, spoke in strange, terrifying voices and even had their facial features change. Ministers were called to the scene, as well as a host of medical professionals. They all found the mother and children to be of sound minds. There was no history of abuse. They were a normal family, until the demons took hold of the helpless children.
There are over 800 pages of documentation outlining the horror the Ammons family faced. Professionals with upstanding reputations have put it all on the line in confirming the impossible things they saw. Pictures of the house and family reveal disturbing images of shadow people, leering faces and unexplainable objects.
So what is this? A hoax? Hysteria? Mass delusion? A desperate cry for attention? Any one of these options brings comfort to the masses. We can let the story fade within the ebb and flow of the news cycle and go about our lives, unencumbered by big questions with even bigger consequences.
Exorcisms are real. That’s an undeniable fact. Just this month, Pope Francis announced that the Vatican is training a host of new exorcists to combat a rise in Satanic worship in Italy and Spain. I remember a couple of years ago when there was a similar call for trained exorcists in America. My family knew a monsignor who had been specially qualified to perform the rites of exorcism, and had been called to duty several times. He was reluctant to speak of them, simply reassuring us that evil was real, as real as the computer you’re reading this blog on, as real as love and happiness, life and death.
The big question is, does evil live in the heart and soul of man, or is it a dark presence outside of man, a demonic force waiting patiently for our weaker moments so it can take root? Worse still, is it both? In our every increasing secular society, people prefer to think the former. Evil is a character trait, an emotion, a momentary lapse in moral judgement. Devout Christians and a host of other religions will tell you it’s the latter, that demons do exist.
Whatever wellspring that spawns evil, the very concept chills us to the bone. Movies about demonic possession have been frightening people for decades. From The Exorcist to The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism, we are both attracted to and repelled by the notion. Like moths to an inviting flame, we can’t stay away, yet we’re terrified to stare too deeply into the fire.
I see movies and books about exorcism and possession as a kind of exorcism in itself. The more we fictionalize it, the less real it becomes, which, in turn, robs the concept of its power over us. The Ammons case, with all of its supporting evidence, has the ability to demolish the walls we build to keep out the evil things out while reassuring us that our bad decisions have no long-lasting consequences.
Or we can tell ourselves that they’re crazy, or liars, or fame seekers. Or better yet, just let the story fade away.
For people interested in learning more about exorcisms and the church’s stand on the practice, there’s a very good book I can recommend called American Exorcism by Michael W. Cuneo.
I’m back from a tiny vacation and working like a madman down in my dungeon where I keep my computer and ghosts in a jar. I’m very happy to share my first ever gothic horror tale, MERCY. Part 1 is featured on the Pen of the Damned website. It starts with an exorcism, and goes into dark, myserious places from there. You can’t beat the price (Free!). Check it out when you have a chance and hit those share links at the end of the story to let folks on FB, Twitter, and everywhere know where to find it.
Special thanks to my ghoulish assistants, Ivy and Veronica Shea, who dreamt up this creepy story and gave me inspiration.
Now, Part 2 isn’t scheduled to be out for another 7 weeks, but if I get enough demand, I’ll feature it right here on the blog sooner, followed by Part 3 on Pen of the Damned. It’s all in your hands now. (cue sinister laughter)
And if you dig this, Evil Eternal is right up your alley!
It’s a great day here in the Shea neighborhood. My second book with Samhain Publishing, Evil Eternal, is now available and can be had a pretty damn good price (under $5!). I’m honored to be part of the Samhain family and have been impressed every step of the way since they took this orphan in last year.
Now, I’ve already given you an excerpt in a previous quote, breakdown of the book on my Books page along with some advance reviews. So, what the heck esle do I have to talk about (other than the various posts and article on my blog tour—see previous post)? I figured I’d give you a little Shea family snapshot and show you how Evil Eternal grew from a tiny idea to a full-fledged, demon-killing novel.
Way back when Bill Clinton was asking the world to define the word ‘is’, I got a spanking new computer. The best way to test drive that Gateway was to write a short story, preferrably something with larger than life characters, demons and gore. Hey, it’s what I was in the mood for at the time. Well, I cranked out a short story about this undead priest called Father Michael who stumbles upon scenes of carnage wrought by a demon called Cain (he of Cain and Abel infamy).
I wrote it, I read it, I liked it. So did other folks I showed it to. I went on to write another story, placing Father Michael in the NY sewer system seeking demons in dark, filthy tunnels. About a year after I had written both stories, a Bram Stoker nominated horror website came to me to see if I had any ideas for a monthly e-serial. I thought, hey, I’ve got just the thing!
So for a few months, I wrote new chapters for the website, leaving each on a cliffhanger. It was great fun. Alas, the website shut down well before the story was finished.
There were plans to make it a graphic comic and a great friend started preliminary artwork. Comic publishers were contacted, but no one took the bait. Oh well. I may be a big comic book reader, but I was never too saavy about the business side of the medium.
I had an ending that was just itching to be written, so I went back and finished what I started and had a dandy novella. And that’s the way it sat for quite a while.
Enter Samhain, stage right. As I was digging through my drawer of misfit manuscripts, I showed my editor the novella. The next question was, “Can you flesh it out and make it a novel?” Hell yeah, I can! I dove back into the Evil Eternal world and added a new beginning, ending and beefed up everything in between. I had a ton of fun writing it. This is ‘let your freak flag fly’ territory.
And now it’s finally here. Be sure to check in at the ‘ol blog and chain and the various blog tour stops for giveaways and fun. Next time you’re in church, thank a priest. They may save you from death at the hands of a demon some day. 😉
We’re just days away from the global release of Evil Eternal (poor, poor world). Not one to sit on my duff, I’ve been hard at work at some other exciting things, but I’ll save that for a later post.
Below is the official Evil Eternal Blog Tour. Be sure to check in at each stop because there will be all kinds of freebies and signed books.