Had a great time at my first Halloween party last night, despite having to leave just as everyone was loosening up due to a very early start this morning (how BAD was that for timing, and no it wasn’t worth it!)
Yes, that’s right, my FIRST Halloween party at the age of 42. In fact, I’ll be honest, had I known that it would be a Halloween themed party, I probably wouldn’t have gone in the first place, but there we are, it’s just like Jesus to trick and treat me.
You see, I’ve been in churches where the priest went puce if I so much as mentioned Greenbelt (a Christian Arts Festival that is fully inclusive of all people and all Christian traditions) never mind donning a Scream mask or sporting ‘evil eye’ contact lenses to visit a curates house decorated with miniature pumpkin lanterns and the odd polystyrene skull. Consequently, I have learned to stay well away from anything that will court controversy, or ’cause my brother or sister to stumble’.
Now, that last misquoted scripture is very, very important in this story. It alludes to a person ‘weaker’ in the faith having their belief negatively affected by somebody stronger in the faith, who walks in the freedom that grace gives us from the law. To make my point very crassly, I know it’s all down to Jesus’ work on the cross so I don’t feel the need to follow kosher food laws, for example, to attain/maintain my holiness, as it has been freely given and I accept it[that]. I can’t do it myself, never could and never will be able to become ‘holy’. I am more than happy to leave that job to Jesus.
BUT let’s suppose I’m with somebody who truly cannot cope with my eating black pudding (which must surely be the devil’s work – have you SMELT that stuff eewwww) as they – rightly or wrongly – assume that means I am denigrating our faith or our Lord. This scripture would urge me not to do it in front of the weaker person but to accommodate their sensibilities so as not to offend them.
Unfortunately, this means that I have sometimes felt as if my life is being ruled by neurotic, superstitious types crying ‘infidel’ for simply enjoying God’s good earth and the people who inhabit it with all their eccentricities, diversity and plain mischievousness. If somebody has a loud enough paddy in certain types of church, ten to one they will get their way as this is the sort of ‘family’ that DESTESTS public scenes and will do anything to hide the elephant under the carpet, rather than put the elephant in its rightful place.
But last night, skeletons hung from the banisters, fake black cobwebs decked the ceilings, and plastic millipedes were found in bowls of nuts, next to a dish of miniature skulls and Bombay Mix. Last night the elephant was giving rides, and the carpet had nothing to hide bar a few stray chick peas.
I found it quite surreal to hear people having earnest theological conversations dressed like an extra from Scary Movie, while laughing at the be-cassocked ghoul tripping over the cincture (cord used like a belt over priest’s robes) he had borrowed from an ordained friend saying, ‘It must be a nightmare, working dressed like this’ through his ‘stitched’ lips, the irony totally lost on him.
To be honest, as the candles flickered well out of time to Lynyrd Skynyrd, I couldn’t think of anything less evil than this gathering of people with a wicked sense of humour, all of whom will grace our churches tomorrow morning and turn our hearts and ears and eyes towards Jesus Christ.
But even as I write this, I know that there are those who will be truly afraid for my soul and the company I keep. They might grudgingly acknowledge the innocence of our gathering, but they will assume it is also an implicit acceptance of those who would celebrate evil. The question really ought to be why is Halloween particularly associated with evil and witchcraft?
After all, it is just a combination of a seasonal festival (Celtic: Samhain – the change from the lighter to the darker half of the year), to which has been added a Christian Feast Day (All Hallows/Saints) with a bit of medieval superstition thrown in (annual remembrance of dead ancestors but hang on a minute if they’re around what else might be, I know, let’s wear scary masks and costumes to frighten them off – think gargoyles on Cathedrals). Add to that the Catholic practices of ‘souling’ where beggars would go from door to door on All Hallow’s E’en receiving food in return for praying for the souls of the family’s dear departed (yep, that’s right, trick or treating) and then chuck in a Reformation when all that praying for the dead and holding Requiem Masses is forbidden, and you are left with an empty, mindless, purposeless set of rituals where children still dress up in scary masks and costumes, begging from door to door for food all for…the fun of it. Ironically, something that was initially a rejection of evil has been inverted into an alleged celebration of it.
Granted, Halloween does coincide with one of the Wicca (witchcraft) festivals although I can assure you, the young woman walking down the street wearing a pointy hat isn’t the one you need worry about. If this is your fear, be assured that witches are just as stereotyped as Christians and in all reality just as difficult to spot. The one all in black is most likely a priest with a dog collar in their pocket. On the other hand, there are another seven Wicca festivals during the year but because they are not widely known or associated with a particular date/event, superstitions slumber and the lens of fear does not interpret dark nights and howling winds ominously.
My take on it (given that I do recognise that there are people who would choose to call on darkness rather than light and hurt rather than heal) is that we ought not fear evil anymore this weekend than on any other night of the year. Why?
Because fear breads fear breads fear and gives superstition legs and arms and wings. Fear can be as powerful as prayer; it’s a psychic energy feeding paranoia which is why people need CBT to overcome phobias where a fear has been allowed to feed upon itself and grow into an incapacitating semi-permanent mental state that affects every part of the phobic’s life. Perfect love casts out fear, so we ought to abide in it, get in The Presence and let that state rule our thoughts. If we focus on Jesus we will ‘fix our eyes on Him’, if we focus on looking for evil, guess what we will become fixated on? Yuhuh…
There is a wonderful scripture that describes Satan’s works as crushed by Jesus (Romans 16:20) so that we become light bearers. Anyone who has ever carried the smallest tea-light into a room knows that it’s the light that overcomes the darkness, every time. Just because you can see it all around you doesn’t mean that it can touch you – you are touching it – with Christ’s light.
If God is God, if Jesus is the Christ, if the Spirit is with us, then that has to be an absolute given. As Psalm 139 says, where can we go from God’s Spirit or Presence… even darkness cannot hide us. So what does it matter which night of the year it is, how dark things seem, or if there are pumpkin lanterns (traditionally left on doorsteps to scare away ‘nasty spirits’) and horror masks on every street corner – it is more a case of us not letting our fears shrink God to the size of our faith, instead letting our faith billow out on a never-ending quest towards the magnitude of Almighty God. And if all else fails, and your superstitious streak gets the better of you, given the abundance of be-masked and ghouled up people walking the streets this year, don’t worry, the evil spirits won’t stand a chance.