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Not Happy Halloween
The beautiful world is in a terrible state
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.
The news in recent weeks has left me in silence and tears.
I’ve not written much because I don’t know what to say. The shooting in Maine. The terror in Israel. The bombings in Gaza. A white supremacist fundamentalist who believes that God has specifically ordained him to be the Speaker of the House is two heartbeats away from the presidency. Hate crimes rising around the world. Did you know that the United States is now building a nuclear bomb twenty-four times as powerful as the one that destroyed Hiroshima? Maybe you missed that last one, lost as that news was amid the other horrors.
Every conversation I’ve had in the last course of days has begun, “I’m so afraid.”
Words seem terrifyingly empty to me, as if they are being pulled by a gravitational force into an unescapable hole of . . . something . . . nothing?
And so I sit on this Halloween, on the ancient festival of Samhain, the eve of All Hallows. The northern part of Earth enters into the darker half of the year, the growing season ends, the border between This-world and the Otherworld thins. The children on the street run from house to house. But, over their laughter, I hear the refrain: I’m so afraid.
You shall not be afraid of any terror by night :
or of the arrow that flies by day,
Of the pestilence that walks about in darkness :
or the plague that destroys at noonday.
A thousand may fall beside you,
and ten thousand at your right hand :
but you it shall not touch;
Your own eyes shall see :
and look on the reward of the ungodly.
The Lord himself is your refuge.
— Psalm 91
Who fears the terrors by night when daytime horrors are so evident?
I don’t understand the twelve-foot skeleton at the house down the street or the tombstones in my neighbors’ front lawns. Don’t they know that there are dead bodies left to rot, murdered by terrorists? Where those obliterated by bombs can never be buried, their names forgotten forever? That there are so many streets where laughing children will never run again?
For God’s sake, don’t say “Happy Halloween” to me. I just may go mad.
There’s no need for pretend-scared since we are haunted by war and authoritarianism and real threats of death. And I wonder: How many others feel this weight of fear, this dreadful horror, this thinned place of the gravitational pull? The silent afraid stalking the world?
Tomorrow is the day that we Christians celebrate the saints. One thing I know with near certainty is that the strange community of the dead whose lives are remembered for courage or sacrifice or some sacred absurdity were haunted by fears, too. You can’t be a saint without a precarious awareness of the thin place, without knowing the knife’s edge of life and death.
I can’t imagine any of my sister-saints from Mary Magdalene to Mary Oliver watching the news and feeling anything other than the deep pain of this world or the persistent gloom of it all. I think of Mary Magdalene’s tearful accusation: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
And I remember Mary Oliver’s paradoxical resolution:
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
We might face our own endings with equanimity. Love, embrace, let go. But the deaths of so many? How to live in this world; how to love this world?
Maybe that’s why it hurts and we are angry and we feel afraid. Because, ultimately, we love. Perhaps incompletely, incoherently, and even inanely. We love the right things and the wrong things. We embrace beauty and goodness; we cling to that which twists our hearts. We act valiantly; we execute vengeance. But, even when we love stupidly, it is still love — holy, human, hallowed. It is what we have. This is not the moment to stop loving the world. We must love more deeply, embrace one another.
It isn’t the time to let the world go. Not yet. Maybe, however, it is time to let the fear go.
“Here is the world,” wrote Frederick Buechner. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.”
It seems I had a few words. Mostly, I want my friends not to feel so afraid. Perhaps the gravitational pull of the universe isn’t emptiness. Maybe it is love.
Somehow, in this thin place, in this haunted night, I believe that.
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue,
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
— John O’Donohue, “Beannacht”
[The breath of prayer] is listening with our entire being. It speaks to an immersion of attention that all the traditions aspire to; each claiming in its own way that peace resides in this completeness which arises when our individual sense of being merges with the ongoing stream of being that is the heartbeat of the Universe. Whether these moments arise from great stillness or great suffering or great love, they all seem unexpected and seem to depend on our ability to hold nothing back.
— Mark Nepo
Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
— New Zealand Book of Common Prayer
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