Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?—Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him. (Macbeth: Act V, Scene 1)
Thus speaks the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth in her famous sleepwalking scene, as she tries in vain to purge herself of the murdered King Duncan’s blood. These lines of Shakespeare are among his most quoted. Let us glimpse into three imagined scenes where we may find Shakespeare’s lines well employed.
Scene 1: A novitiate
“Out, damned spot! out, I say!” demands the novice.
It’s a dark night, buried in February’s gloom. We spy the novice hunched over the laundry room sink. Diluted bleach stings the nose and a scouring toothbrush shuffles across the ear. There he labors to return his habit to its once-white brilliance.
We may think that the culprit is splattered sauce or spilt coffee. But it’s not these stains from without that preoccupy our novice. Rather it’s the self-made stains, the ring around the collar and the one around the cuffs. No proverbial elbow grease can remove the actual grease already embedded in his cloth. Some stains can’t be purged by human effort.
In his frustration, this novice will learn to surrender.
Scene 2: A parish church
“Out, damned spot!” prays the penitent.
The dusk’s last beams of light ignite the church’s stained glass. The penitent sits at some distance from the confession queue, tucked away beside a shadowed pillar. How many times must he confess the same, tired sin? How many times must he resolve to change what feels now to be only inevitable?
He envisions what will happen. He’ll confess as he always does; the priest will absolve him—maybe even with a touch of encouragement. Then it’s one day at a time. He pockets his hand, finds his rosary, and squeezes it hard.
In his humiliation, this penitent will learn to hope in God alone.
Scene 3: Hell
“Out, damned spot!” snarls the soul’s adversary.
This agent of damnation bemoans his plan’s imminent defeat. His conniving is undone by this “damned spot.”
Perhaps this spot was “damned” once, “damned” for thirty pieces of metal. But this blood we sold, in turn, bought us back. And though we betrayed him, he unceasingly offers his blood for our salvation. Once “damned,” this blood is now our glory.
This “spot” is powerful indeed. And so the demon sulks: “Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”
Here our scene turns to heaven:
One of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:13-14)
This is the Blood that achieves what the novice fails to do with bleach and brush. This is the Blood that forgives and restores the penitent with untiring mercy. This is the Blood that frustrates our soul’s adversaries. This is the Blood of our life, our joy, our salvation, our eternally consummated love.
Let us heed the words of Saint Catherine of Siena, rather than those of Lady Macbeth:
Bathe and drown thee in the sweet Blood of thy Bridegroom. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love. (Letter to Sister Eugenia)
As Lady Macbeth drove her husband to destruction, may Saint Catherine encourage us to salvation. And as the sleepwalker fretted over a spot of blood, may we—children of the day (1 Thess 5:5)—rejoice over the saving tide of the Blood of Jesus.