A little delayed for the season, but I couldn’t make this one happen before October 31st . . .
I enjoy the season of autumn as the cooling air calls people in to warm soup, hot chocolate, blankets, and fires on the hearth.
What I do not enjoy so much about the season is the ugly side of Halloween. My children are less effected as they grow up, but they generally haven’t enjoyed the store and yard decorations, though they can’t seem to stop looking at them. In this season I’ve dealt with night-time fears over something ugly and I’ve been in a fight for the right imagination in them. Still, I’m intrigued by Halloween. I’ve seen and heard of traditions similar to “All Souls Eve” in Japan and Mexico (sans the costumes and candy), and I’m sure there are more elsewhere; essentially, days of the dead. I’ve spent a little time searching out the beginnings and beliefs behind these traditions, and frankly it’s confusing. In the end, it’s obvious, they have to do with death and souls of the departed and the belief of living on after the shriveling of their shells.
At some point, a church holy day collided with the dark side and some of us aren’t sure what to do with this “holiday.” Some boycott Halloween altogether and don’t do costumes or trick-or-treating. There are harvest parties meant to be an alternative, either to protect our children from nightmares or to free our consciences from somehow associating with the wrong father, worshiping the very one we’ve been rescued from. A harvest party sounds better; non-creepy, kid-friendly . . . a celebration of abundance (maybe of candy more than corn and squash these days). I admit, I would rather have pumpkins and squash lining my mantle and porch steps to celebrate harvest than skulls and spooky things. But have we overlooked something on the safe side of the season?
I have a picture on my wall of my girls one past autumn. They were sitting in a pile of orange, brown, red, and yellow leaves we had just gathered. As they sat centered in shriveling colors, death was the backdrop behind their youthful faces. Every leaf that falls, every squash and gourd picked, is severed from its life source in this lovely season of harvest. Life has ended, yet their colors decorate our lives for a while. The squash finds its way to our tables in soups, breads, and pies and their dying pulp feeds our flesh for a season. Call it Harvest, not Halloween, but it’s still a season of dying.
Only a world which knows death can keep walking without surprise at what is happening to the leaves. It has become normal. Things are supposed to die. But really? We don’t really believe that. Maybe the gore is there to remind us of how ugly death really is. It’s the ugliest, smelliest thing there is . . . when it is final and hopeless.
And only a world that knows hope can admire the colors which come in the process. Harvest shows us a death that gives life. The leaf returns to the earth, but the tree lives on. The seed must die to produce the next yield. I must die to myself to find where my life really is. There is dryness, crackling, pain, and in the end, beauty and new life.
We live and move in a world of death every single day. One doesn’t have to look far, even if you don’t watch the news. We buried a tiny mouse in our back yard three weeks ago. It was sad and ugly (the experience, not the mouse). It mattered because nothing is supposed to die. Death is ugly and no one will argue but death itself. And just as crazy as believing in the living on of souls, is a crazy promise to which I cling:
“Since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead . . . and . . . The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” *
“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” ” **
Death has been collecting the debt of this world from the time we fell from the world that knew death not. But it has already been severed. Its colors of dark and ugly are simply lingering as it dies slowly and surely. The One who bought our victory has plunged to its depths and awaits for all to see what He has done . . . given us victory.
So with a clear conscience, my children wear costumes and we move among the world that has come to know death, collecting candy in jack-o-lantern buckets . . . because we have the light of life and nothing to fear. We walk along with neighbors present and neighbors past, knowing that any light, however small, will always overcome the darkness.
I cannot spend my life worrying about the obscure ways holy days might collide with the darkness because I am meant to be a light in it. And if the few images of death scattered around the beautiful colors are scary now . . . wait until death dies and the ground can no longer contain those who have shriveled before. They won’t be walking like zombies, but rather fully alive like we’ve not yet seen; in the world that knew not death. This is the imagination I instill in my children. And that, my friends, is possibly the creepiest, most colorful thing death will ever see as it breathes its very last.
*I Corinthians 15:21
**I Corinthians 5:54,55