Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Being Afraid of the Dark

I'm all about watching those tv shows about most haunted places or ghostly legends that are on this time of year.

In the daytime.

At night, I'm a little more wary.

All the stories become a bit more real when night descends and the wind picks up outside. No one tells scary stories at high noon because they aren't as scary. Nope. Midnight around a fire, outside in the middle of the woods where the sounds of small animals searching for food might also be a monster lurking in the shadows for your very soul.

Because the dark is scary and unsettling. Noises which we'd ignore in the light become alarming in the dark. We can't see as well. A familiar path without light is dangerous in the dark, so we move more slowly, more cautiously...and then we still step on a Lego or a wayward dog bone.

The church recognizes this truth with the trilogy of days called Hallowtide (or Hallowmas, which are both great words we need to use more in the Church) - All Hallows' Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.  All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe'en, has its origins in celebrations marking the end of the harvest period where days become shorter and the boundaries between the worlds of humanity and other beings (ghosts, fairies, goblins, and the like) became more permeable. As with most festivals, food, drink, and fire were involved in various ways. The Christian church, in its join them rather than beat them mindset, draped its commemoration of the saints, those who had been martyred, on the revelry and liturgy in the 9th century.

Some historians argue that the veneration of the saints and their relics developed from another pagan tradition of prayers and feasts to calm angry and restless spirits of the dead. Thus, All Saints Day.
Lest we think All Saints is only a lovely, elegant holy day where we pray the litany of saints and sing the song of the saints of God, we are remembering people who were martyred (church lingo for dying an often painful and unpleasant death). Early commemorations of this day involved venerating relics of the dead. So imagine going to church and praying with a mummified foot or remnants of a skull of a saint on the altar. Or going to church and praying the names of ones who had been martyred who were members of your family or close friends. So while it is a day of prayerful hope, sadness and tears weave the hope together.

And the third day of Hallowtide, All Souls Day, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, invites us to remember those who have died from our lives. Or, in more honest language, to touch again the grief and loss we feel when someone we love has died. Some cultures decorate graves. Others build altars to the dead. At our church, we create a space for people to place pictures and mementos of loved ones who have died to remind ourselves that our love with them has changed, but has not ended. At our service, we pray their names - all of them. Hearing so many whom we have loved who have died is a tender and sad moment.

The holy days of Hallowtide invite us into the darkness of life. Darkness is not evil; it is instead that part of our life that is less clear, less steady, less comfortable. The language of spirits, of death, of grief, and of fear are intertwined with the language of prayer, of silence, and of hope. The symbolism of the cross is alive - death and life intersect. Light and dark are part of the same whole. We as Christians do not escape fear, unrest, and darkness. It exists as part of life. And when we are in the darkness, we are often scared. Things that we hear and see and touch in the darkness unnerve us. We can feel alone and abandoned.

And that is a faithful response.

As the prologue of John tells us, the darkness does not overcome the light. The darkness is still with us. And for these three holy days, we pay particular attention to this truth, even when we would rather ignore it. We are even invited to make fun of the darkness with Halloween costumes and carved pumpkins. And we are reminded to sit with and in the darkness during this holy time with our prayers and hymns, to tell the stories that perhaps scare us, to remember the losses that hurt us, to be with our silence and our grief, with our fears and our faith.

We are welcomed in the dark with God.

 





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