“At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
No matter where you stand on the Will Smith-Chris Rock brouhaha (a surprisingly five-day-old, non-partisan issue), I’d like to pull my chair closer to Denzel Washington.
Denzel’s quote was immediately exalted as “wise,” “impactful,” “Shakespearean” even.
What it wasn’t called was “religious.”
Get this blog-boy to a nunnery!
It was easier to believe that Denzel was still in his “Tragedy of Macbeth” character – he, too was a best actor finalist, after all – than to believe there was actual belief behind his words. If he would’ve weighed in on Taysom Hill’s permanent switch to tight end (thank ya, Jesus!), would he be doing some “Remember the Titans” bit?
‘Tis true: Macbeth knew something of a devilish downfall. After murdering King Duncan but before the Great Birnam wood came to Dunsinane, Macbeth clung tight to his power source: himself. The psychological violence bridged the physical violence, as Lady Macbeth demands of her increasingly crazed husband: “Are you a man?” The general puffs up in his chainmail as proof: “Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that which might appal the devil.”
Denzel might be the greatest actor of our generation, but his impromptu advice wasn’t a character workshop. Shakespeare had his source material, too.
We dust off these plays and are struck by their imagery because there’s something timeless in their telling. There’s something about us. There’s something about the human condition.
If we don’t experience some sort of internal struggle – a push in a certain direction, a pull to stay put – we might not be engaging in this game called life honestly. The root of the word “devil” itself points to the push-pull reality: “diabolical” literally means to throw apart, to separate.
Don’t like to speak all devilishly? Here’s a synonym: “Pride comes before the fall.”
When our sight is fixed on ourselves, when our purpose is ego-driven, when our success is our god, the precipice is coming. It’s hard to sustain ourselves.
And that’s what religion helps with – or, at least, that’s what religion should help with. Catholics, for instance, hold both that humans are made in God’s image and rife with post-production problems. The devil’s in the user manual details, or something like that.
More simply, it’s hard to pair up bold inner-worth and constant humility. We’re great; we’re prone to stumbles. Both frightened and free, to quote a local folk group.
Even more topically, that’s what Lent is all about. It may feel like a 40-day-long Monopoly match – uh oh, mom is consulting the rulebook again; collect $200 and skip your Sunday fast – but it’s really in place to see how we tick. If we can’t pass up a piece of chocolate or a nightly cocktail, how powerful are we at all? We’re the best and the oh so weak.
I’d like to reflect on that basic Lenten message over a drink really, really, really soon. (Have I mentioned we’ve decided to curb our alcohol intake…for 40 whole days?!)
So stay with Denzel, stay in Lent, stay self-aware. That’s the project of religion.
At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.
Speaking of devils, how about the Dukies making it to New Orleans on Coach K’s farewell tour? I didn’t fill out a March Madness bracket this year (ahem, I’m prone to stumbling), but the last two weeks of the tourney have sucked me in. As is typical, my rooting interest was New Orleans. For storybook purposes, Duke needed to make it. Once they were slotted to face either UNC or St. Peter’s, I was completely in the results that care forgot. Let’s pray for the lights to stay on throughout (which animal cut power to the Super Bowl, again?) and for another One Shining Moment!
Did you know the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans started this strangest of championship conclusions? Just imagine the producer demanding, “More montage!”