Spooky Season

I hope you all had a happy Halloween, a blessed All Saints Day, and are enjoying a beautifully sunny All Souls Day. Or perhaps you celebrated Dia de los Muertos. Or maybe you know these holy days as Samhain. Regardless, I hope these days of transition from Fall to Winter that help us think about the cycles of life and death have been meaningful ones for you. This coming Sunday, we will have our annual All Saints/All Souls worship service where you will have the opportunity to light a candle and name those who have died in the last year. It’s always a beautiful time of remembering and I hope you can join us.

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with some people before worship about the perceived rise in interest in all things Halloween or even just all things spooky. That conversation was mostly anecdotal, but I also saw a recent news article saying this Halloween was going to set a record for the most spending ever, between candy, costumes, decorations, and all the other accouterments of the season.

There are probably any number of factors contributing to this rise in interest in Halloween or “spooky season” as some call it (some being me), but I have a theory that at least part of the reason is a theological one. My theory comes in part from an author I like named Andrew Root who has written a series of books about [_blank_] in a Secular Age where the “blank” is filled in with words like “The Church…” or “The Pastor…” or “Faith Formation…”  The short (and inadequate) version of Root’s main thesis is that we have entered a new age of secularity where the existence of transcendence is no longer a given for most people.  Whereas the gods or supernatural powers outside of our control were once assumed by many if not all, we now find ourselves in an age where belief in the existence of the supernatural or transcendent is an outlier.  If there is something we don’t understand, it is because we don’t have the technology or science to sort it out for us.

Along with Root, I believe that this leaves us with a longing for transcendence, for the existence of something greater than ourselves. Spooky season helps us get in touch with that longing, even if it’s just wrapped up in costumes and rituals of play or minor dabbling into occult practices. For some, maybe this is just escapism in the same way a good fantasy novel or a scary movie is a way to escape from reality for a while. But I think leaning into mystery and ritual can also help us become more engaged with reality, teaching us to trust that we don’t need to write off the unknown but can dwell in its beauty and seek its wisdom. 

I’m reminded of one of my favorite scripture verses that I had read at my ordination and which continues to guide my work. In 1st Corinthians 4:1, Paul writes, “Think of us in this way: as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” I absolutely love the phrase “stewards of God’s mysteries” and appreciate how it feels balanced with “servants of Christ.” I hope that the practice of our religion never seeks to answer every question or simplify the mysteries of God. And as we serve Christ by serving the world in practical, concrete ways, I hope we always find space to dwell in the unanswered questions and the messy beauty of relationships. 

So let’s light a candle this Sunday and name the dead and lean into the mystery of what this ritual does to us, to the great cloud of spirits that surround us, and to the world. Maybe it’s very little or maybe it’s grand beyond our comprehension.