- “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”― Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “I like the night. Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”― Stephenie Meyer, Twilight
- “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Some churches today shy away from the practice of Halloween celebrations. And although All Hallow’s Eve is not a feast of the Church, most major feasts of the Church were created on top of the dates of Pagan festivals in ancient times. In the constant battle to conquer darkness, some believe we must abolish it and not own it. But we cannot abolish darkness. It is part of creation. Process theology and other fields of study, such as quantum physics, assume that if God is the one and only, the Alpha and Omega, then God made everything, including darkness.
Just look up at the night sky. Darkness has a very important role – it helps us see the stars. We can’t know light without the contrast of dark. On earth we dwell in a world of polar opposites. Our job as humans is to hold the tension of those opposites as God helps us integrate the darkness within ourselves, and thereby in creation, until it is consumed by, but not separated from, the light.
I once read in a sermon that Halloween is a time to have fun and laugh at the darkness that is a serious and threatening part of life. This time of celebration is a reminder that, in the light of God, we are stronger than darkness.
In Dana Reinhardt’s young adult novel A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, the main character, Simone, who is very much in the darkness and let down by life, finds Halloween to be a time that warms her heart:
Halloween is my favorite holiday of all time. It always has been…I think Halloween brings out the very best in humanity. We open our homes and give without expecting anything in return…What other night do you talk to your neighbors…and other people’s neighbors who just drove to your neighborhood because it seemed like a nice place to knock on the doors of complete strangers? What other night do your not mind when your doorbell rings in the middle of dinner again and again? On most holidays we turn inward. We gather in our homes, we light fires, we spend time with our loved ones. But Halloween sends us out into the streets, into the cold, with people we don’t know, running from stranger’s house to stranger’s house.
The festival / holiday that we practice today (the one that has become a multi-million dollar industry just like commercial Christmas) is primarily filled with fun, imagination and treats.
Horror movies exist and some bad pranks are played on Halloween, but these things are occurring day in and out, on countless television shows and in the real world in school shootings and other ways. This real horror is not caused by the celebration of Halloween but by the fact that humanity does not accept its own darkness and do the work to transform it.
A time for children to dress up and have fun, carve pumpkins into Jack-O’-Lanterns (which bring light) and approach neighborhood homes with joy in their hearts, is a wonderful way to understand and appreciate that darkness exists, yet know God’s love is stronger.
As a child, Halloween was my favorite holiday, and I was a sweet and innocent child. To this day I do not like horror movies. I never did nor do I condone violence of any kind or anything that takes energy and love away from another person. Yet I love Halloween.
Trick-or-treating doesn’t usually harm our neighbor. Every time we are mean or unkind to our neighbors in day-to-day life, insulting them or sending bad thoughts their way, we are casting a spell. Did you know that? We are affecting that person and ourselves with darkness. Our job is to see that, to feel that meanness within us, and to make a different choice.
Jesus consumed the darkness by integrating and understanding it within himself in a battle with the devil in the desert for 40 days. Jonah ventured in the whale through the night sea journey – the dark and depressing crisis of spirit. The Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years until they could understand the darkness in themselves. This is the human journey and it leads to wholeness (notice the multiple mentions of the number 4, the number of transcendence).
It’s our job to recognize, acknowledge and admit the darkness within, then turn to God and offer that energy to the service of love.
What better way to admit that we all contain darkness than to have a holiday that lights it up, pokes fun at it, offers treats and welcomes strangers and neighbors?
On Halloween we honor ghosts – the unhappy, violent energy left behind, not integrated, by those who have come before. Then, the next morning, on All Saints’ Day, we celebrate their rising to God. Our lives are committed to doing the work our ancestors did part of, but not all of, to living their unlived lives. This is part of the cycle of life, an ongoing participation in creation and commitment to bringing less darkness into the world.
Every Sunday through the Eucharist and once a year on Easter we make the theme of light consuming darkness a living tradition with our celebration of the Resurrection. Most Episcopal priests will tell you that there is no Easter without Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Why? Because it is part of the human process – all part of a journey to wholeness, for us and for the world.
Like my love of Halloween, Maundy Thursday is my favorite Holy Week service. Again, I work in the church, love God and feel it is my mission to spread God’s love in the world. The Maundy Thursday service is dark and morbid, a gruesome remembrance. Yet I love it. It shows me what Christ overcame. I experience it, breathe it in – the darkness – redeemed by light.
In Advent and at Christmas we say that the light is coming into the world and then that it has come in Emmanuel, God incarnate, God with us. The world is dark. The light is coming. God became incarnate to show us the way. Not to separate the world from Himself, but to integrate it, to transform it. We are charged with bringing the kingdom of God to earth, not to eschew the earth or run away from the dark side.
We live the Holy Days of Advent to Christmas, Lent to Easter. Why can’t we use Halloween to do the same? Darkness preceding light. All Hallow’s Eve transformed into All Saints’?
As a bookseller, I must include one final very important book reference: Harry Potter had to accept his inner darkness, the Voldemort who lived inside him, and die to that darkness to be reborn into the light. If we only run from the darkness it will always be chasing us.
How can the church use Halloween as a teaching tool? How can we demonstrate the seriousness of darkness and the joy of All Saints’ through it?
O God, give us to wisdom to see and understand the darkness within us, that we might, by your grace and mercy, transform it into love for the world. Help us to know that you are with us through it all, as we travel through the valley of the shadow of death, and that by your love and in partnership with you, we will transform the earth, and live in your kingdom. Amen.