Today is Halloween, so I thought I would pick kind of a dark and spooky image to reflect on. At first glance I thought this was a picture of the moon at night as seen through branches. But then as I looked closer I thought maybe it wasn’t the moon; maybe it was the sun, and the camera was compensating for its brightness by making everything else darker. Or maybe it’s the sun and branches reflected in water. Wait, what am I looking at??
That’s kind of what Halloween is like, I think. A time of equinox when darkness and light are wrestling and appearances can’t always be trusted. It’s a “thin place” in the year, where the boundaries between the world of the spirit and the world of our daily lives get blurry.
Looking at the darkness in the picture (Let’s say it’s night, let’s say that’s the moon.) I think of the lines from a Peter Gabriel song:
And the darkness still has work to do,
The knotted chords untying.
The heated and the holy,
Oh they’re sitting there on high,
So secure with everything they’re buying.
I remember my first Halloween as a homeowner in Saskatoon. What had been a time of creativity and fun as a child, dressing up and getting candy, suddenly became a night when punk kids were going to throw eggs at my house, or set my tool shed on fire, or show up at midnight with a couple of dabs of fake blood in the corners of their mouth and an empty pillow case demanding a handout. I was suddenly feeling protective of my stuff.
Perhaps the ghosts and monsters of Halloween are scary because they remind us that the things we cling to for security could be gone tomorrow. Today I am well-off, with my family and my home and my place in the community; tomorrow I could be that crazed maniac at the door asking for candy. Today I think of myself as a fairly decent person; tomorrow I could be demonized. Today I am alive; tomorrow I could be that disembodied spirit or soulless corpse (hopefully wearing enough layers, because even zombies can get chilled). Today I am not a Scandinavian queen cursed with the ability to turn everything around me to ice; tomorrow… OK, the metaphor kind of breaks down here. I don’t know what to do with Elsa or Iron Man. But you get the idea.
The fear of Halloween is the fear of all the things we could lose.
The fun of Halloween is the realization that we’re all scared, and that we can make it through our fear (and maybe buy it off with a bit of candy). Because on the other side of Halloween is All Saints Day. We don’t have the same kind of popular festivities for All Saints, but it’s comforting to remember the cloud of witnesses who testify to the fact that, in God’s topsy-turvy “what am I looking at??” world, to lose everything is not all that bad. The saints are more often than not people who have lost their stuff, their wealth, their security, their stature, their lives for others. And in the process they have found a treat more surprising.
What do you think of when you see this picture? Or what do you think about Halloween? If someone came to you seeking a “trick” or a “treat” on a spiritual level, what would you give them? Leave a comment, let me know.
(Photo credit: Ann Naylor, Theological reflection: Scott Douglas)