Monday, 31 October 2011
Facing The Night With Joy And Trust
"I form the light and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the Lord, that doeth all these things." Isaiah 45:7
Halloween is upon us with all its symbols and traditions that help to brighten up this time of year and which give us all an opportunity to engage in a little frivolity. Halloween's observances stem, I believe, from the Gaelic festival of Samhain, a name which in both Irish and Scottish Gaelic has in time become applied to the whole month of November. Traditionally this day marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the night-half of the year. Animals that had been fattened over the warm summer months would be slaughtered and their meat preserved to feed the people over the lean and cold months ahead. A big feast would be held to rejoice in the face of the hardship and danger which the winter would likely bring. This danger and hardship was the cause of an uncertainty which drove people to devise and play divinatory games on the night of Samhain, or Oidhche Shamhna in Gaelic, to ascertain what the future had in store. The Christian festivals of All Saints and All Souls that are observed on the first and second of November introduced a focus on the departed into the existing traditional agricultural festival. People would remember all those who had died, and would in some cases go "souling" house to house asking for gifts of money or food in exchange for praying on behalf of the souls of the departed. In time costumes would be worn and the seeds for trick-or-treating were laid down.
We now stand at the gates of winter, with the landscape painted in hues of orange, yellow and red, just as the sky is illuminated with those same colours in the moments before the sun sets and ushers in the night, therefore now more than ever is the time to recognise that we don't know what the future holds, and that life does indeed have mysteries and fearful possibilities that threaten us all. Despite this we need not be bound in chains of anxiety, or search desperately for signs to reveal to us the hidden, instead we can look the coming night, with all its dangers and difficulties in the face and laugh with a spirit of joy. For we can remember the days of light and fullness and rejoice in their fruits which now follow us into the dark night to sustain us. We can look fondly on the memories of our loved ones, and of the wise men and women of the past, especially our teacher Jesus, whose wisdom still lives for those who wish to avail themselves of it. The departed do not leave us, but through our recollections continue to inform our present and shape our future.
Above and beyond all else we can place our confidence into the hands of the Creator of light and darkness, life and death, whose presence is with us always, and whose love for us is immeasurable.
Wishing everyone a Happy Halloween.
"Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin' clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu' blithe that night".
Halloween by Robert Burns 1785