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The Possession

The Possession

by Maria L. Evans

Psalm 91 (Tanakh translation:)

He who dwells in the covert of the Most High

will lodge in the shadow of the Almighty.

I shall say of the Lord [that He is] my shelter and my fortress,

my God in Whom I trust.

For He will save you from the snare

that traps from the devastating pestilence.

With His wing He will cover you, and under His wings you will take refuge;

His truth is an encompassing shield.

You will not fear the fright of night,

the arrow that flies by day;

Pestilence that prowls in darkness,

destruction that ravages at noon.

A thousand will be stationed at your side,

and ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not approach you.

You will but gaze with your eyes,

and you will see the annihilation of the wicked.

For you [said], “The Lord is my refuge”;

the Most High you made your dwelling.

No harm will befall you,

nor will a plague draw near to your tent.

For He will command His angels on your behalf

to guard you in all your ways.

On [their] hands they will bear you,

lest your foot stumble on a stone.

On a young lion and a cobra you will tread;

you will trample the young lion and the serpent.

For he yearns for Me, and I shall rescue him;

I shall fortify him because he knows My name.

He will call Me and I shall answer him;

I am with him in distress; I shall rescue him and I shall honor him.

With length of days I shall satiate him,

and I shall show him My salvation.

One of the more interesting happenings of late in northeast Missouri is the debut of the movie, “The Possession.” In that typical Hollywood way, when they say “based on a true story,” the story is actually based on three stories, one of them the book, “The Dibbuk Box.” I have known the author of the book ever since he was a college student at Truman State University. The premiere of “The Possession” has been one of the more interesting happenings around here, and it’s been fun to watch someone I know get a bit of notoriety for his work.

In the movie, the Psalm above is used to help get the evil spirit back in the dibbuk box, after it has possessed a little girl. Episcopalians would recognize it as one of the Psalms we often do at Compline. In fact, when I went to see the movie, I immediately recognized it as one of the Compline Psalms, even though it wasn’t quite the same translation–which, oddly, took the wind out of the movie being “scary” for me. I’m sure my mind was going, “Well, nothing evil can stand up to THAT.”

Perhaps what makes this movie intriguing–this whole concept of “possession by an evil spirit”–is that, ultimately, we recognize that each of us has our own dibbuk box inside of us, as well as our own Ark of the Covenant. Movies about “possession” grab our psyche because we are already possessed by not just one, but two mindsets. Our internal Ark of the Covenant strives to unite that God-box inside of us with the totality of God, but at the same time, that dibbuk box inside us works overtime to instead, get us to unite it with the false god of self. Our own dibbuk boxes whisper just as mysteriously as the box in the movie did, telling us that we’re special, that it really IS all about us. The possessed girl in the movie displayed a ravenous appetite–the evil spirit inside of her needed to be fed, and several scenes show her wolfing down her food and tearing into the refrigerator. Anyone who has ever struggled with addiction or substance abuse knows first-hand an equally desperate hunger caused by the substance or behavior of choice.

Part of the process of subduing the dibbuk in the movie is that it has to be called back into the box by name. Interestingly, the name of the dibbuk in “The Possession” was discovered by breaking the mirror in the inside lid of the box–by shattering the thing that, when we look at it, simply reflects a backwards self into our eyes. Calling our own dibbuks by name is an important part of the process of moving from thinking “it’s all about me,” to “it’s all about God.”

What does it take for each of us to, instead, open the lid of the Ark of the Covenant inside ourselves and gaze back at our true reflections, rather than false ones?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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Maria L. Evans

Thanks, Bill, for bird-dogging that!

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Bill Dilworth

Maria - I think I ran it to ground: it's not JPS, but the Judaica Press' _Tanach_.

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Maria L. Evans

Bill, my recollection is I pulled it out of my JPS study bible on my shelf, edited by Adele Berlin but I could be wrong there (since I'm replying at work.)

Since I really can't speak for the production staff, I would say check the movie out.

That said, movies are movies, and I suspect someone with more knowledge would probably find some room for critique.

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Bill Dilworth

I like the image of the two interior arks, but am going to have to think about it before commenting on the trope. Regarding the Psalm, "Tanakh translation" isn't really more of an identifier than "Bible translation" would be. It isn't either of the two translations done by the JPS with which I'm familiar - do you know which translation it is exactly? I haven't seen the movie yet, and don't know much about Jewish rites of exorcis (I think I read something about shofar-blowing somewhere) -, but find it interesting that this Psalm is the key to imprisoning the dybbuk. I wonder if the writers and director portrayed Jewish thought and practice better than Catholicism usually comes off in the movies?

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