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The Wheel of the Year Keeps Turning

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Halloween. Why does this holiday get so much attention?  Are so many adults unable to give up the childhood game of dressing up?  Are we all afraid of the dark?

I understand the Day of the Dead, honoring ancestors, and sensing a closeness to the “other world” a little better. But zombies, big parties, and extensive ugly decorations?  It’s not where I want to spend my money.  Some extra candy for children is enough.

Night Scene from Last Winter

Night Scene from Last Winter

There is a lot of dark out there, particularly Ebola and ISIS. The demand to close our borders on both these counts is a case of fear taking over sense, because neither illness nor terrorists can be kept out by limiting flights.  If we knew where and when the enemy would enter, there might be some sense to it.  (“If the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, , ,he would not have let his house be broken into,”  Matthew writes.  Now, as then, there is a limit to what defenses and walls can do.)

In a personal context, going into the dark at this time of year makes sense to me. I suspect that part of the success of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is that this moment in the year is a great time to find an excuse to stay indoors, and even to spend time in an imaginary world.  Holiday festivities and then lengthening days will draw us out again.

November is a time for burrowing. I hope to spend some extra time at my desk this month.

All Saints Day

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Saints: the holy ones.  the old word “hallowed” gives us All Hallows Eve (or Halloween), a once new name for an old, old festival that marks the turning of the year toward winter, the diminished days.  Astrologers say that “the veil between the worlds” is thinner at this time, and so people think of their dead.  The early church wisely added to this pattern rather than combatting it.

We sing “For all the saints who from their labors rest . . . .”  Who are these saints?  Traditional theology would say it is all those who died in the faith, having been made holy by their baptism.  But if we are created by a loving God, we are already holy in our making.  And if you don’t believe in a god, don’t you think that all sentient beings deserve respect – and especially those of our own species?

Empathy and concern for the common good seem to be hard to learn in our individualistic society.  One could claim that an interest in the good of the whole is a characteristic for survival from earlier times which is no longer needed.  That is a limited view.  I wish that the barriers between us, the living, might also become thinner, so that we might more easily talk across our differences to discern what is best for all.

Halloween and Other Ghosts

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We’ve reached another cross-quarter day, the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice, better known as Halloween.  It is interesting that this day gets so much attention.  Many believe it has no connection with religion.  They celebrate it with fun and costumes in the early dark.  A significant minority in this country knows that it has religious origins and prohibits it as satanic.  In its early form it was a time of religious ritual, particularly rituals of purification through fire, and of moving to winter quarters.  In some places it was also the start of a new year

I’ve always thought it would be an awkward day for a birthday.  How special would you feel if everyone else was getting candy too?  A friend born on this day, however, told a story about a time in elementary school when birthday parties were forbidden.  The teacher worked her birthday into the Halloween festivities.  That would make a person feel special.

Another person who was born on this day was my mother-in-law, Jane.  Her sons would have no excuse for forgetting their mother’s special day.

I’ve not been impressed with the recent focus on zombies.  I don’t believe in them.  Ghosts, however, are real, in a number of ways.  A woman from New Orleans told me, “Home is where you listen to the ghosts.”  I picture her attending to voices of her―and her community’s―past now that she has returned home, voices she could not hear properly when she lived elsewhere.

My own ancestor research has been work with ghosts, a crowd of people clamoring to be remembered.  They have sometimes weighted on me as an obligation.  At other times they are more like sprites, delightful wisps teasing me into the past.

One of the special things about my mother-in-law was an uncanny ability to find a parking place just where she needed one, no matter how crowded the situation.  To this day, when my husband and I find a space like that we say, “That’s Jane’s space.”  It’s as if she has found and held it for us.  She’s a good ghost; we’ll have her with us as long as we remember.  The parts of our past we’ve neglected may come back to haunt us.  Those we’ve cherished will remain in our hearts, connecting us to our heritage.  Perhaps you’d rather call them something else than ghosts.  Any metaphor will do, as long as we remain mindful of this phenomenon, that we continue to be connected to those who are gone.