All Hallows’ Eve

I must admit that Halloween is not in the upper levels of my favorite holidays, not least because I’m a coward.  I have no patience for being scared, and no tolerance for things that are scary.  I don’t even do well with the trailers for horror films—the films themselves?  Forget it.  I have a mind that holds onto images FOREVER which is a terrible, terrible thing for a day built around images designed to creep you out.  I still remember a scary email from 12 or 13 years ago that freaked me out in the middle of the day.  No threshold for that sort of thing.  So Halloween?  Hell.

Most Halloweens I relish being able to stay inside and watch Ghostbusters (the limit of scariness for me, really) and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, waiting for the world to return to some semblance of sanity on All Saints’ Day.

I do like jack-0-lanterns, though.

(Unless they’re meant to be scary.)

So sitting here at my desk on this blustery, witching-cold Halloween (or Hallowe’en, to recognize the contraction of “even[ing]”) and listening to the soundtrack for Nightmare Before Christmas and Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor and getting feminist-ly upset about how utterly sexist and stupid adult costumes are these days, I’m trying to think back to the point of the holiday.  It was a day meant to appease the dead, who may or may not have had unfinished business with the living.  Scary things are scary because they are unknown, right?  And what is more unknown than Death?  It would be pretty awesome if he were actually as snarky as Terry Pratchett’s version, but somehow I doubt it.  And people of faith get kind of stuck, because we’re not supposed to be afraid of death—I mean, God’s got it covered, right?

Right?

Not to be overly morbid on a Friday afternoon, but it’s still super overwhelming to me to consider how much we skirt the line here in the 21st century between this world and the next.  We don’t have nearly the comfort with the idea that people did when Halloween was still All Hallows’ Eve—or better still, Samhain—no matter how much we talk about how much more “civilized” or “evolved” we are than those weird Dark Age medievals.  In modern Western culture, we don’t do death with any real engagement—and so it gets pretty scary.

The idea of the unsatisfied dead is a hard one, especially for modern Christians, again because we have everybody classified.  There is no waiting room of the afterlife—there’s Heaven, there’s Hell, and if you’re an old-school Catholic there’s Purgatory, which was one of the original terrible sequels.  People don’t wander the earth seeking comfort or vengeance or forgiveness because God the Judge gets that all ironed out.

And yet.

How often do we reach for a person who is no longer there?  How often do we wonder if they miss us as much as we miss them?  How often do we hope that someone who was miserable in life found happiness in death?  A person dying doesn’t mean s/he ceases to be a person, especially to those of us who knew that person well.  The idea that they linger—and that that might not be a good thing—is powerful.

This is not to say that I do or do not believe in ghosts, because honestly I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it is to say that we as a culture (and we as a people of faith) kind of suck at handling the death thing.  We honor the fallen but not our connection to them; we honor the idea of grief but not the seemingly infinite nature of it; we remember our dead but generalize The Dead into TV shows and sexy costumes.  We take what frightens us and mock it, these days, which is really great in theory and kind of sucks in practice as “what frightens us” dwindles from the Great Big Ideas into things like rabid bears and zombies.

Not that I’m trying to rain on the Halloween parade (although I would like you to note, Reader, that’s it’s snowing in earnest now here in the Land of Pilgrims, which is the first snow of the year and makes me unreasonably and perhaps unhealthily happy), because I understand that it’s a night of daring and adventure for many and can spawn hilarious jokes and other curiosities.  It’s just that it’s interesting to me as someone about to ignore a world of frightening things for an evening and then go to church on Sunday and hear about those who have died in the last year.  There does indeed need to be room for both the remembrance and the uncertainty, because things change and things go bump in the night and it’s not always clear where God actually is in all of that.

That’s really rambling, for which I’m sorry.  I can only plead the fact that I’m distracted by snow, and that I started the morning with an hour-and-a-half long meeting of frustrating-ness.  But I find myself implicated by my own refusal to face the Great Big Ideas that frighten me, the relationships left unfinished for one reason or another, the ghouls and skeletons in my own closet.  And that’s tough, because Halloween is meant to be a day of fun and candy and things that aren’t real—not moments of realization that are very real indeed.

 

Lord Jehovah, my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid? Lord Jehovah is the strength of my life; by whom am I shaken?  (Psalm 27:1, ABPE)

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4 thoughts on “All Hallows’ Eve

  1. […] day before Halloween, Reader!  My apologies for dropping off of the radar last week without telling you; that day did […]

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  2. sablon says:

    Hello, you used to write magnificent, but the last several posts have been kinda boring I miss your super writings. Past several posts are just a little bit out of track! come on!

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  3. I too have always been rather impatient with horror films. I take stories seriously, actually placing myself in the shoes of the characters, and that entire genre is just something I can’t tolerate. Friends who love horror movies tell me they enjoy them because they don’t take them seriously, and that makes sense to me. I just don’t know how to do it.

    I agree that our society doesn’t know how to handle death constructively, and this is true even within the church. I believe this is because we have so imbibed the spirit of the Enlightenment (and the materialism that goes with it) that we have left little room in our minds for constructive thinking anything non-material. I am not sure what the solution is, but I agree that it’s a problem.

    Happy First Day of Snow.

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