|Playful in the crypts below Lima, Peru's cathedral. January, 2012.|
Don't be a scaredy-cat.
Over and over throughout the Bible, we're told to fear not. (Except when God's pissed off. Then yeah, be fearful.)
All this courage and fearlessness is thrust upon us. We're supposed to have a strong spine, a stiff upper lip.
And yet. in many ways, it's a tough sell for me. We do have fears. Some carry angst over monsters, others clowns and dolls, some over violence in our streets, and still others criminals. Apparently, many fear even people of a different ethnicity or culture, walking on the other side of the street. That's fear. That's real.
And even the Biblical exhortation to be not afraid can be rough. Don't be afraid? It's not easy when you watch the news. And even if you're faithful, don't be fearful ... unless God's mad? It's like a menacing parent who says they love you but won't hesitate to whip you silly if you don't fall in line. That fear is intrinsically mixed in with love, and frankly it's hard to find that sort of relationship anywhere close to being unconditional love. You see that more in horror movies involving kidnappers. A simple understanding of Biblical courage might be unpersuasive.
Besides, humans as a rule don't like to be genuinely afraid, so we don't need to be reminded to be courageous. Instead, avoid fear, transform fear, deflect fear. We act out in anger and aggression in order to avoid situations and feelings of fear. True fear debilitates and we, in our fight or flight reactions, show that we will do whatever it takes to reduce these terrible feelings. And when we can't evade the horrors of life, anxiety and/or depression settles in to offset the enormous negative energy. Counterproductive as it might seem, but negative emotions are sometimes the only way to counteract other negative emotions.
And then there's Halloween.
It's a holiday that, when I was a kid, was surrounded by mirth and mild fear. Increasingly, it became one of terror, where haunted houses migrated from the corny to bloodbaths. This holiday is now worth 8-10 billion dollars each year in the USA. Thanksgiving is worth less than 3 billion, not including travel. The numbers alone might cause the blood to drain from your face.
By definition, the word Halloween comes from the phrase All Hallow's Eve (All Holy's Eve). All Saints Day is November 1 and All Souls Day (for those who haven't quite made it to sainthood) follows on November 2. The night before, or Eve of, All Saints Day, like the Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, is a time to begin celebrations. The concept of Halloween shifted from focus on Saints and Souls in all their holiness to the dead. More than that, it's moved to the terrifying.
Why do we do this? What is the joy in creating fear in others? The mild stimulation certainly can raise adrenaline. There's also the merriment associated with giving someone a playful fright, a "boo!" moment. Some enjoy gory movies and entertainment, and Halloween provides a date as a focal point for such diversions. Looking around me, I think we can agree that this is the most common situation.
In contrast, we have some who feel that all this is utterly satanic in every respect. They assert that any enjoyment of the dead, the monsters, the blood, and the costumes celebrate a pagan and demonic heritage. I'm not in agreement with these folks, as the history I've described clearly has ties to the remembrance of the saints and the dead.
I think that Halloween has become our subconscious effort to make light of death, to create opportunities for cathartic release, for us to admit our fears and release the rage that would otherwise become manifest if left unchecked.
We aren't calling up demons from other worlds. We're dispatching demons inside ourselves.
My Halloween costumes, when I dress up, have been one of three types: the victim, the maniacal, and the fictional or historical human character. The one exception to these tendencies is that I once dressed as the Grim Reaper. It might be boring, but I prefer to get a laugh or a wry smile out of my costume rather than a frightful chill.
Do I miss out on the catharsis? I'm not sure. I enjoy the efforts of others to induce the fear, but I don't feel the need to immerse in it. It's almost as though there's too much in the real world to create real fear. What subconscious-clearing monster must I confront that can top the horrors of today's news headlines?
Others though enjoy the fright. And I give them latitude in that delight. If that fright lessens the existential or all-to-present dread that permeates our every day life, then I'm in favor of it.
Biblical exhortations to be not afraid aren't meant to eliminate simplistic, superficial fears after all. I think they are intended to root out our real fears and our faith-killing monsters. The opposite of faith isn't doubt. Doubt is often a key indicator of an underlying and powerful faith.
No, the opposite of faith is fear. Real fear. Because when we are afraid, we cannot love. And when we cannot love, we cannot follow the one and only commandment given to us by Christ: to love one another.
So let's give ourselves a fun "boo!", a playful surprise, a well meaning monster. Or, if you're like me, dress up like Harry Potter, or a judge, or road kill. Let's be joyful, knowing that our reverence for the dead might be helped when we acknowledge, admit, and embrace that death and the unknown are indeed frightening.
And let's hold hands as we ask for love, blessings, and candy. We won't be afraid, if we walk hand in hand, knowing that we have each other's love for all eternity.