It was Sunday morning, but my neighbor invited me to the casino in the mountains with the legendary buffet, so I went. As a valet whisked away our car, I whispered to myself, “This is gonna be good.” Inside the handsome oversized door, I imagined a Chihuly chandelier and beautiful, happy people like in casino commercials.
Instead, suffocating noise and stale air slapped me in the face. A hideous orange and purple carpet, an undulating stain of cheap red wine and pepperoni pizza, rolled out in every direction. No Chihuly, just rows of machines with expressionless people, zombies staring at screens. And it was packed! Out the side of my mouth, I spat, “Wish this many people went to church on Sunday,” ironic since I wasn’t at church either.
As friends pushed me toward the enormous buffet, I suddenly missed church. I realized the lobby didn’t meet my heavenly expectations. Perhaps the first ring of Dante’s hell? Then the pulsating electronic billboard of sexy entertainers got my attention, maybe the second ring? But the gargantuan buffet pulled me directly into the third ring of hell – gluttony!
There I faced a mountain of food that I intended to eat. Straight ahead stood a fantasy island of golden deep dish pies, towering cakes, nutmeggy peach cobbler, and gooey bread pudding soaked in carmelized brandy sauce. I’m in trouble, I knew. To the right were heaping trays of Chinese noodles, pork and mandarin beef steaming under a fire-breathing, 12-foot, golden dragon. To the left was a wall of savory rotisserie meats spinning and sputtering over piles of applewood-smoked-bacon. “And there’s the produce” pointed my friend as she skipped the salad bar entirely. Just looking at it, I felt a little sick to my stomach. This is too much, I winced. Filling a modest first plate, I watched the couple next to me pile so much bacon their plates that pieces fell to the floor. “Wasteful gluttons” I snapped aloud, meaning them, as I went back for thirds of that sticky, wonderful bread pudding.
An hour later, in a food coma, I staggered onto the gambling floor, and into Dante’s fourth ring – greed. In this soulless place, 1700 humming slot machines lulled people into utter obedience. One woman closed her eyes as she waved bejeweled hands in front of a spinning, technicolor wheel. Conjuring up good luck? I snickered to myself. Another woman put a $100 bill into a machine, frantically pushed buttons for exactly one minute, and lost it all. “They’re automatons!” I gasped as I quit my silly Milk Money machine eighteen cents ahead. Nobody spoke except one loud, “Yea!” at the craps table as somebody won big. But mostly people lost. And some lost big.
I felt sad and agitated. I need fresh air, I told myself as I pushed out into the cold. Staying a long time to inhale earth and life and calm, I wondered about today. It was pretty dumb coming here. I really miss worship, I told The Lord. I love you, he said, filling me with His quiet presence. “Thank you, Lord,” I whispered, feeling like I could breathe again.
Reluctantly returning to the smoky casino to find my friends, I became aware of an unsettling, monotonous tone that filled the gambling floor. The same chord emanated from all the machines all the time. It irritated my spirit. Droning deceit, loneliness, addiction, despair, it felt…well, evil. “Man, why didn’t I go to church today?” I murmured, wrapping myself in memories of the beauty of worship, like my faithful grandmother’s exquisitely soft cashmere sweater.
I hummed the tone to myself and wondered, “Is that middle C?” When I got home I googled “slot machine ambient tone” and learned that it’s a “tritone C chord.” Also called “The Devil’s Interval,” it was banned in compositions for decades, but was used by Franz Liszt to suggest Hell in his Dante Sonata. “Are you kidding me?” I gasped at the computer screen, “The devil’s interval? That’s the sound in those machines? I’ve got to ask Scott Dean about this!”
Reading further, I learned that the ambient sound “is not there when the floor is empty but the machines are still on.” “Whaaaat?” I coughed, and asked myself a string of questions.
So, does that mean the machines need the interaction of people to produce the sound that unsettles my soul? Is there a critical mass needed to make this evil tone? Can evil not harm us if we don’t participate? If we unplug?
In the same way, does plugging into the natural world, worship and scripture invite God’s presence? Does a quiet walk in a living forest or worshipping together create a sweet sound that God hears above the din?
Then I dove deeper, asking myself, So, how do we spend our time? Inviting God’s spirit into our hearts, or running toward what hurts us? Do we give as much time, money and attention to what is noble, right, pure and lovely as we do a slot machine, fears, excuses, or sins? And then deeper. How do I spend my time, money and attention? Lord, I ate so much bread pudding. Then I stared at my computer a while.
The bread pudding was addictive and gambling gave me the chills, but God found me in that casino. I came home with more to think about and more to love about Jesus.
I discovered that Jesus is not only in my adventures, but at the heart of them. He’s not suffocating or stale, but pleasing and fresh. He’s not hideous but lovely. He doesn’t want automatons but real people. He blesses me without my conjuring up magic. Jesus is true and faithful even when I ignore him.
He loves me even as I eat my fourth helping of bread pudding. And He has the power to set me free from overeating, overspending, and everything that chains my spirit to hopelessness. Jesus is alive and at work in my life. He provides for my every need, protects me from evil, seeks me when I hide, and shows up in casinos. He inspires me toward heaven not hell, lets me win at what’s really important, and offers me eternal riches. The Messiah, Jesus is the sweet, sweet sound that settles my soul!
OK, next Sunday it’s back to church. But Lord, will you please share that bread pudding recipe?