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Posts Tagged ‘halloween’

A Fall Story

This is a Fall Story. I’ve always liked Fall, there are things I like to remember about it and things I look forward to. I like to watch the leaves change. I remember people always saying that leaf color peaked in the third week of October, but here we are and things are still green. I enjoy Fall for those mornings you can see your breath against the sky. I enjoy anything apple or pumpkin.

There are things about Fall that I have always loved and figure I have probably retired from. This is not an intentional retirement, but I haven’t done them in so long I suspect that I’ve retired. I’ve played a lot of Fall soccer, but not for some time now. It has been a long while since I’ve made a scarecrow or bobbed for apples or attended a costume party. I was never very good at that.

But, surprisingly, my Dad could pull off a costume. Dad was influenced by whoever influenced James Dean. He combed his dark hair straight back. I might also add that Dad had false teeth. Once when the church was in need of a drunkard for a play, Dad volunteered. He flipped the collar up on his jacket, pulled out his teeth, messed up his otherwise slicked back hair, and staggered up the aisle – he totally pulled it off. I think people were lining up afterwards to get his autograph.

Since it is Fall I am reminded of a Halloween costume party. At this particular party, there was an unrecognizable old man in a dark corner. He looked rough, he held a cane, he held it out if someone came near. He would sometimes yell and cause commotion. I stayed away, out of fear. When the party was over, the scary man stood up, combed his hair and put in his teeth. I had no idea that was Dad.

Each Fall there are things I look forward to. I like to overnight in the forest and Fall is the perfect time. The sounds, the smells, the way the fire feels against the cold, the way the star lit sky looks through the tree canopy. I like to carry my bow in the woods. I like to fit in one more fishing trip. And now that I have retired from some activities, I do things like clean out the gardens, clean out the bird boxes, clean the feeders. I used to run around on a soccer field, now I have become a maid for the local wildlife. I am seriously thinking about putting up an owl box. I am thinking about putting up a bat house.

But so far, I haven’t had a chance to do any of this. I have been busy writing a paper. 7500 words, for those counting at home that is 28 pages double spaced. Now that I think about it, I should have continued bobbing for apples and retired from writing papers.

This paper took over my life, at least it felt like it. A class I am part of was assigned a text and told to read it over and over. We were told to steep in it, like a tea bag steeps in water to make a delicious refreshing drink. It doesn’t happen instantly, it takes time. I took the request seriously and steeped and steeped for over two months. I read it in six different translations. I read it in a different language. I read it out loud. I moved to different rooms to read it. I read it upstairs and downstairs. I read it standing on my head (true story). I thought I might read it in a tree, at least in a hammock, but then I haven’t made it to the forest.

The text I’ve been reading is from the New Testament and includes apostles and widows and complainers and table servers and priests. I pretended to be all of them. I read as if I were auditioning for the part of apostle. I read as if I were auditioning for widow. I read as if I were auditioning for someone waiting on tables… you get the idea.

Did I mention this paper took over my life? Fortunately for me, I turned that thing in this week – all 7500 words. And the best news is, we are not yet halfway through Fall. I have time left to do some of those things I’ve been looking forward to…

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It is October 31. We often refer to this day as Halloween. We expect to hear knocking on our doors and children asking for treats. This year, something else has caught our attention. October 31 is also Reformation Day and this year commemorates 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Door.

Some celebrate this, others regret it, nearly everyone analyzes it. It makes me want to nail something to the door. Perhaps I would start with the following reminders;

*it is not ok to think alignment with other political powers is acceptable

*it is time to stop talking about God as if we have Him figured out

*it is time to stop acting as if we can be faithful to scripture without the church

*it is time to stop acting like we can play church without the canonical adventure of scripture

*it is time to stop neglecting Christian traditions that are different than our own

If I were Luther, perhaps I would have thought longer about this and included about 90 more reminders. I will stop with these. And add “Happy Reformation Day!”

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On November 1 the Church celebrates the feast of All Saints, followed by a day in honor of soon-to-be saints, the feast of All Souls. Better known is the night before All Saints Day – All Hallows Eve.  It arrives as summer is over, the harvest is in, and the earth begins to turn brown.  Things become drab and we may be reminded of death.  It arrives before the snow begins to fall and cover the bare trees and barren fields.  It arrives, in fact, exactly in between the first of Fall and the first of Winter.

Many may not consider Halloween a Christian holiday.  Yet, that does not change the fact that All Hallows Eve is historically a celebration of the church.  In fact, the verb “hallow” means “to make holy.”  While many consider Halloween pagan, the Church has traditionally remembered it as the eve of the feast of All Saints.  (My mom used to design worship services this time of year in an effort to highlight this fact). 

Many customs of Halloween reflect the Christian belief that on the feast’s vigils we mock evil, because as Christians, evil has no real power over us.  Still, at its worst, Halloween highlights evil.  At its most neutral it is a community event.  But, at its best, it is the evening vigil before the remembering of those who have walked before us.  Those who have walked with God in the face of evil.

Over time Halloween began to lose its religious identity, becoming more of a community-based holiday for children. Admittedly, the superstitions and beliefs surrounding Halloween have evolved.  But, people still look forward to parades (the Halloween parade passes near our house), costumes, and treats (we hand out candy to pirates and witches and celebrities and political impersonators that ring our doorbell every year).

It has come to be known as a time of superstition.  As a time for beggars.  It has become our second most decorated holiday.  Even the people decorate themselves at Halloween.  Today masks and costumes may be for décor, for fashion, or to create a party atmosphere.  But, it likely served different purposes over time.  It is possible that the wearers of masks were attempting to go unrecognized for fear of the dead.  Some may have worn masks with the hope to scare the ghosts.  Sometimes masks may have been part of an effort to mock evil or confuse spirits.

Today, trick or treat is a primary part of the community celebration.  This is another Halloween custom that has likely been influenced by centuries of tradition.  Gifts of food and drink may have been left out to placate roaming spirits.  People may have dressed as spirits and ghouls and performed antics in exchange for food and drink.  Beggars may have roamed the streets to acquire food from those who have more.  Poor people in the community may have begged for “soul cakes,” and upon receiving them they would agree to pray for departed souls.  In summary, it seems that if the dead are wandering they must be hungry.  Leave bread where poor spirits might find them.  Or if not – where poor bodies will.  These are interesting beginnings to our modern day “trick-or-treat.” 

There is a legend of a baker who invented soul cakes to remind people of eternity at every bite. She cut a hole in the middle, dropped it in hot fat, and now we have donuts.  Circle that it is, it suggests the never-ending of eternity. Truth or legend, if I find someone frying up a batch of these I will volunteer to test whether eternity can be tasted in every bite.

Another story goes that an Irish farmer, Stingy Jack, invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drinks.  After tricking the devil again, he forced the Devil to agree to not claim his soul.  Upon his death, the Devil would not permit the farmer into hell.  Jack’s stingy and lying ways did not allow him to go to heaven.  But the Devil did give Jack a small piece of burning coal to light his way, and the farmer put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has roamed the Earth ever since.  From that day to this he has been called “Jack o’ the Lantern.”  Other legends include carving faces into potatoes or turnips in order to scare off spirits who may be wandering on All Hallows Eve.  Eventually, the pumpkin became the favorite.

In a real way, All Hallows Eve places us on the border of what is holy and what is evil.  What might be saintly and what might not.  Where evil may be feared or mocked.  Where celebration meets superstition.  Where truth meets legend.  Right where the visible meets the invisible.  Where life meets death.  Where what is “hallowed” may be remembered or forgotten.  Perhaps we need Halloween.  Halloween reminds us that what is holy works right in the midst of what is evil.

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