I’m haunted by a desire to see beauty…but not just any beauty. I’m haunted by a desire to see, feel, and be wrapped up in deep meaning. I sense it. I feel it like the cool breath of autumn in late September. Every now and then I experience it like I experience autumn on a late October drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s not that every experience I have has to feed my desire for meaning in order for me to be thankful, it’s that I know that every experience I have in some way is connected to that meaning, and I want to mine it for all it’s worth. I’m sure our habit of snapping Instagram photos speaks of this innate hunger in all of us. We want the meal in front of us, that curried smoked salmon with grilled asparagus, to represent more than the world realizes. I believe that the homeless desire for reconciliation in all of humankind shouts out its joys to the God it refuses to reconcile with. “God! I’m not talking to you, but this food is AMAZING!” Anyone that has been estranged from a close relative or loved one can understand that desire to be seen without going through the pain of true reconciliation. We have secret thoughts of the estranged friend poring over our pictures, so they can see how much we truly are enjoying life without them…despite them. Or are we really? Our desire to celebrate the beauty we find in experiences and things speaks of our desire for a deeper beauty, and a deeper, more meaningful, life-giving reconciliation with our Creator.
It is my opinion that our fascination with death is another stab at digging up meaning… from dark places…places that we flirt with, but avoid prolonged intimacy with because we know what they point to. Halloween is such a place. I don’t celebrate Halloween, but I find it beautiful in a way. I don’t mean the modern sexualized version, which attempts to stick one toe in death while thrusting the rest of the body at a cheap and twisted version of pleasure. Rather, what I’m referencing is the place of existential gravitas. The dark forest where the wind lifts the leaves and plays with our anxieties and our conscience. I appreciate the beauty present in the fact that there is a battle, and that there is a peace that still whispers through the fear…through the darkness. There is a morning that comes, exposing shifting shadows for what they are. Don’t mistake my avoidance of Halloween for a fear of death, or a fear of the demonic. No, it is because I respect the evangelistic nature of death that I lead my family past Halloween, towards the morning sun. I have no desire to trivialize death, nor for my children to mistake death for an undefeated foe. Yes, death reminds us of our weak and sinful state, and to the judgment of God against our sin, but in so doing it also points us to the grace and mercy of God. Death is the testimony pointing to the Gospel. It is the blood of Abel crying out from the ground. The “death” of the leaves, and the coming of winter is a time that seasonally reminds many people of a dependence on something or someone outside of themselves. It speaks of weighty things that should be on our minds and in our conversations.
One way that my family recognizes the weight of the season, while avoiding the distractions of Halloween’s bastardized pagan traditions and wicked modern sexual expressions, is to celebrate another major event that took place on Oct. 31, 1517. We remember the day Marin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg All Saints chapel. This has come to be known as Reformation Day. Luther was also concerned with the weight that he felt in life. He observed many Roman Catholic Church officials and ministers abusing the weight of death for the purposes of extorting money from the general populace so that they could build bigger infrastructures, and live more extravagant lives. Luther saw the fear of death as a testimony pointing him and others to the peace found in Christ, but others used it to trap people in a cycle of endless works that might bring life if carefully attended to. Luther understood that salvation and peace do not come through singing the praise of institutionalized Christianity and supporting its every initiative. Luther, himself, was haunted daily by knowledge of the Holy to the point of insanity, until he saw and believed in the rest offered within Christ Jesus. Although there are not a lot of traditions to pass down in conjunction with Reformation Day, the family and I will sit down tonight, watch the movie Luther, and eat some bratwurst in memory of the German reformer.
I encourage all of you to consider the weight of this season. The weight of death, and the great weight of glory that death points us to. I certainly do not condemn my brothers and sisters who participate in Halloween as a means to celebrate community and gift children candy, but let me admonish my brothers and sisters not to be distracted from the deep meaning calling out to us in this season. Find a way to see it, and represent it well. May you all experience the life beyond death, that is our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.