So, a few weeks ago, in that fuzzy early-morning state in a hotel room far from home, I am dreaming, and in my dream I am listening to "American Pie". The lyrics seem even more obscure than usual.
And, as we craned our necks to lookWait a minute! Where did that come from? Not from any of Don McLean's verses. I'm no fan of over-interpreting dreams but this one seemed loaded with some kind of significance.
The statistician filled his book
What did it cost to bait that hook?
It came to me today that this is an Easter verse. The "craned necks" are those of the mocking crowds around the cross (Mark 15:29). The "statistician" who makes another entry in his records is surely Death. And the hook? Well, let's turn to Saint Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), reflecting on the victory over the Devil accomplished through Jesus. He pictures the Devil as a giant fish, which Jesus hooked by using himself as bait: "in order to secure that the ransom on our behalf might be easily accepted by him who required it" (that's the Devil, in Gregory's theology), "the Deity was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death...that which is opposed to light and life might vanish" (Dogmatic Treatises, chapter XXIV)
It's a strange, even grotesque image, and taken by itself it has a docetic feel to it. But one thing it does make me think about is how evil's eager greed contributes to its own destruction. As I reflect on the power of greed, in my own life first, and also across the world, to trample and crush, it is easy to think of it as an unstoppable juggernaut. Gregory reminds me that greed contains with itself the seeds of overreach, of gulping down life by mistake.
Image by Flickr user zetrules, licensed under Creative Commons.