Leaning into the Darkness (on Halloween and All Saints)

Hope is Subversive - Sarah Bessey

I grew up in a family that didn’t do Halloween. Actually, in a church that didn’t do it. Of course, it wasn’t the mega event in 1990s rural Oxfordshire that it is in places like North America. But all the same, we didn’t have sweets waiting for the kids coming calling, I think we may even have pretended to not be home once?

I remember at least one year attending an alternative “light” party that still seem to be all the rage in the church at the moment, the idea being that kids can still dress up (no witches or zombies allowed but sure, you can come as Elsa or whatever other upcommercialised princess is currently trending) and play games (doughnut bobbing being a favourite), but there’s not a hint of the darkness that apparently so scares the church.

It’s only recently that it’s started to not make any sense to me at all. As Rev Sally Hitchiner tweeted today, “Halloween is the first half of a 2 day festival (like Xmas Eve). Facing fears & mocking them THEN celebrating those who fight fear and evil.”

The part which no longer resonates is this denial of the darkness that has crept in to our faith. I got tired of going to Christian events where all the stories have happy endings, where the testimonies were of victory over the pain and struggle. No one was testifying to being there, right now, in the midst of the pain and doubt, and still finding God even there, especially there.

As Sarah Bessey writes in her new book, Out of Sorts,

“We like our testimonies to end on a high note: and they lived happily ever after. Evil was defeated. Good won. The heroes faced conflict and were victorious. The end. Turns out life isn’t a Disney movie.”

It’s not that I no longer believe that victory is possible. I see it in a thousand small but significant ways in my life and the lives of the people I know every day. It’s just that I see it coming right in the midst of our daily struggles. Rather than be removed, those same struggles are being transfigured before our eyes.

There’s something more honest, more true, about acknowledging the brokenness in our world, the – yes, I’ll say it – evil. It’s frightening – can we admit that too? The terror of what is happening in Syria. The inhumanity and despair of the way Europe is receiving refugees. The horrifying news of a little girl sexually assaulted on a bus in my neighbourhood. The dreaded call from a loved one with a diagnosis that’s going to be tough to beat. It’s not good and it’s not right, and ignoring it or minimising it with religious cliches doesn’t make it go away.

Maybe that’s what Halloween has got right, somewhere there under all the commercialism. It admits that all is not as it should be, as we wish it was. It sets aside the time before the celebration to look the darkness square in the face. And then we wake up the next morning and continue to live and breathe and preach HOPE.

“I don’t want to be swallowed by the darkness. Nor do I want to be blinded by the beautiful facade. No, I want to be part of a people who see the darkness, know it’s real, and then, then, then, light a candle anyway.” – Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts

The day after Halloween is, of course, All Saints Day, when the church traditionally remembers and honours all those who have gone before us, particularly those who have died in the past year.

In a society that rarely knows how to grieve well, having a day to pause again and remember is so significant. It’s just over one year since we lost our Mormor, and so this weekend I hope to remember her in the best way I know how: in the kitchen. I’ll attempt to make her recipe for medaljer and then probably eat a few more than I should, and remember the special times I got to spend with her in the years since Rasmus and I met.

And we’ll miss her. Faith somehow looks like being able to hold onto the hope proclaimed that “death has no sting” while still feeling the hurt of the sting.

“Hope is subversive precisely because it dares to admit that all is not as it should be.” – Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts.

Hope for me will look like sweet cream sandwiched between shortbread cookies. And maybe that sounds way too sugary to not be denial. But it’s my small way of leaning into the discomfort, the hurt, the darkness. And then choosing to believe that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.