Though there is probably a more palatable way of putting it, devil’s advocacy has a role in turning things inside out and upside down. “Devil’s advocate” began as an 18th century term for one who argued within the Roman Catholic Church against the beatification of a proposed saint. It was a way of truly examining someone from all possible angles. And if you’ve ever been in an argument with a self-appointed devil’s advocate (and I’m the daughter of one, mother and wife of others), you know how frustrating it can be to have seemingly common sense ideas dissected and turned on their heads. I admit, however, that unintended consequences of good actions can be uncovered by these devil’s advocates, and what was right can sometimes then seem wrong.
Turn the known world upside down. That was a theme running through the new Presiding Bishop’s sermon on November 1 at Washington National Cathedral.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdyBlQUU-p8
As he returned to that idea again and again, I was reminded of a favorite line in the hymn text by 20th century writer Michael Hewlett that begins Praise the Spirit in creation, breath of God, life’s origin. It goes on to say in verse 3: Tell of how the ascended Jesus armed a people for his own; how a hundred men and women turned the known world upside down. I hear those words in my head in a setting by Richard Wayne Dirksen that has the music doing a bit of text-painting in the descending intervals of “upside down,” and it’s been my ear worm for a few weeks now.
Reversals have a way of turning our personal worlds upside down. Good and bad news can change the trajectory of our lives at a moment’s notice. This coming Sunday many will be hearing, perhaps for the first time (including me), the words of a canticle taken from the prophet Samuel, called The Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Very similar to Mary’s Magnificat, it tells of such a reversal of fortune. Both Hannah and Mary sang of the gratitude they felt for the unexpected life growing in their wombs. And both sang of all the ways that God could turn not only their personal worlds upside down with these new lives, but the worlds of everyone else as well. The LORD kills and brings to life; The LORD makes poor and makes rich, he brings low and he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap. [Song of Hannah]
To right wrongs, to cheer the forlorn, to love the unloved can be done in obvious ways, or take so many subtle, less concrete, forms in our daily lives. It seems clear to me, though, that by letting the devil’s advocate question our motivations and examine our decisions we just might turn things upside down, and if eventually that feels right side up then we’re probably well along God’s pathway for us.
Dirksen’s stirring tune just might be the catalyst you need to turn things upside down today.