Believing in Halloween

Dear Friends of Second Church,

I guess it’s a reflection of my age and of our times that, as Halloween comes, I’m less concerned about Dark Powers Roaming the Earth than I am about calories. 

We’ve defanged the whole thing.  

And I’m sorry we have.  

I don’t know if people actually stayed home on All Hallows Eve back in the day, afraid of crossing paths with an evil spirit, believing in the ancient Celtic understanding of Halloween as the night when the veil between earth and the afterlife was pulled back, and the spirits roamed free. 

Anyway, for us, it’s not about that. On the contrary, it’s a night to go out. To take the kids. Maybe the dogs if it seems like they’ll behave. Staying home is for Christmas Eve, not Halloween. 

Maybe that’s always been true.

Maybe the notion of fearful people barring the doors and windows and saying an extra prayer at bedtime is never how it actually was.  

But it’s interesting to ponder how our lives might be different if we came to see it as tradition seems once to have imagined it. 

These days, we get very worked up over how scary Halloween really ought to be. We argue over how to make it safer, or more an expression of “good clean fun.”  

Certainly, I’m not against safety or good, clean fun. 

But in the case of Halloween, those might be the wrong things to be asking about. 

It would be better to ask this question instead: if we believed in Halloween, what kind of people might it enable us to become? 

The Harry Potter books suggest a version of this question, with their joyful celebration of magic and of how magic defines a world for those blessed with the gift of being able to practice it. That world is a place of enchantment—so much so that among them, hilariously, magic has become a given, taking on much of the character of the everyday—a way to wash dishes or call AAA—and subject to all kinds of regulations, enforced by people who find work a drag as much as we do. 

The simple presence of magic doesn’t change very much.

With that said, what you actually use magic for turns out to be the defining question for every character in the books. 

And sadly, when it comes to that, wizards and witches prove to be as human as the rest of us.  

They’re no better at separating truth from lies or wisdom from folly than we are, and can all too easily end up using their powers selfishly, foolishly, or malevolently — just as we so often do.  

It turns out that being able to see the world in terms of its great moral questions, to understand the spirit of the times in which one lives, and to work for the good, are just as much a gift as being able to practice magic.  

This is where Halloween fits in.  

It’s not about the magic, dark or otherwise.  

In a much deeper way, it’s about spirits…and Spirit. 

And it’s that depth I hate to think we’re losing. 

With that in mind, I wonder if believing in Halloween would teach us to see more clearly the spirits of light and darkness contending in the rights and wrongs of our own lives. 

I wonder if it would help us to acknowledge more readily the many ways in which, if we are not careful, our lives can be haunted, tempted, and even possessed by the things that might diminish them the most. 

I wonder if it would remind us that the world is more than just the parts made with human hands.  

If Halloween is about those things, then rather than teaching us to live in fear, I wonder if it might actually teach us how to live with greater reverence.  

Maybe instead of preaching darkness, it’s pointing toward the light. 

See you in church,

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