Scripture: Psalm 46:1-3
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Thought for the Day: While Halloween is generally seen as a secular holiday, it is also a Christian holiday, All Saints’ Eve. Like many Christian holidays, especially Easter and Christmas, Halloween is also a much older, Pagan holiday that was repurposed for the church. Unlike Easter and Christmas though, Halloween has somehow managed to retain more of its traditional roots as a harvest festival. The holiday is most typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year. It was seen as a liminal (in-between) time, when fairies and spirits could more easily come into and be active in our world.
Since the time of the primitive Church, major feasts (such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) had vigils, which began the night before, as did the feast of All Hallows’. These three days are collectively referred to as Allhallowtide and are a time for honoring the saints and praying for recently departed souls. All Saints was introduced in the year 609 CE, but was originally celebrated on 13 May. In 835 CE, it was switched to 1 November (the same date as Samhain) at the behest of Pope Gregory IV. Some suggest this was due to Celtic influences, but the change was most likely made on the practical grounds that Rome in summer could not accommodate the great number of pilgrims who flocked to it. Also, there were probably public health concerns regarding Roman Fever—a disease that claimed a number of lives during the sultry summers of the region.
By the end of the 12th century the days had become holy days of obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as “Souling”, the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes for all christened souls. It has been suggested that this is the origin of trick-or-treating. The custom dates back at least as far as the 15th century and was found in parts of England, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy. Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door during Allhallowtide, collecting soul cakes, in exchange for praying for the dead, especially the souls of the givers’ friends and relatives. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The custom of wearing costumes has been explained by Prince Sorie Conteh, who wrote: “It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities.”
The evolution of Halloween shows how traditions change over time, and how the church has been willing to take existing traditions and repurpose them. With more than a hint of irony, the church has historically been willing to change. Today though, Christianity seems to be stuck in a liminal time, somewhere between the traditions of the past and a new, uncertain, much more progressive and less superstitious future. This scares a lot of folks, and that’s a pity. God is not to be feared. God is not punitive. God is love, and only love, and constantly pushing us forward into new, uncharted territory. What have we to fear if God is our engine of creation?
This weekend, let’s join with our brothers and sisters who bravely journeyed before us to change the world. While we might not agree completely with the superstitious nature of people like Paul and Augustine today, they had the courage to speak their hearts about God’s activity in their lives and in the world. They stood up to the entrenched religious structures of their day. It’s hard to imagine now, but they were progressive for their time, as Jesus was progressive for his time. Martin Luther was progressive for his time. Pope Francis, Rob Bell, Marcus Borg, John Spong and others are progressive for our time. There are always saints pushing our faith forward.
And now, it’s time for all people of faith to be progressive. We don’t need to hide from the spirits of the past. We need to embrace them with love while admitting they were just wrong about a lot of things. Rather than being religious, we need to be faithful. Because real progress is made when we stop hiding from each other out of fear, and instead begin looking each other in the eye and saying, “I love you.”
Meditation: I believe there is One natural power that is the creative and sustaining force of all material reality: God, the superstring, the fundamental harmonic. I believe this force is non-judgmental and wholly loving of all creation. Make Yourself known to me, Eternal Consciousness, removing my fear, uncertainty, and doubt about once again leaving the past, and moving forward into a new reality.