It's that time of year again. Leaves fall to the ground and nights draw in cold and dark. It's the time of year when our thoughts tend to turn towards living- and dying. It is as if we are programmed to contemplate the fleeting brevity of life as leaves make their fluttering soundless descents into the mulch of time.
And it is usually the time too when I get angry at those who deny that death is part of life, that there is darkness, and that there are choices we humans make every single day that can turn our lives into a blessing for others- or a menace.
The church in my local town are once again having a “fun light party for the whole family” on Halloween in a determined refusal to allow even a moments exploration of the dark - and this by an institution that purports to help people in their faith journey through life and death…
And this comes at a time when society is reeling from violence by people against people, religions against religions, gangs against gangs. When the Rohingya people are fleeing for their lives from Myanmar; when Spain, a civilized and established European state deems it appropriate to send in riot police to bash and beat 900 peaceful protesters trying to vote; when a crazed gun man in the US harms over 500 people in a single 9 minute shooting spree for which there seems to be no reason…
It comes at a time when millions of the world’s women are finally speaking out in #metoo solidarity against unwanted male sexual advances, harassment and rapes; When young girls are blown to pieces by terrorists at a British rock concert…
It comes at a time when darkness seems to be knocking on the very doors of our world -and when many are looking for answers; looking to know how to live good peaceful lives of blessing for themselves and others- and how to continue to live with faith at the centre.
And it is now at this time that our town church and its leaders have once again chosen to teach how shutting the door, not thinking about death or darkness of any kind, dressing up in glow sticks and having fun is all we can do. It’s not all we can do. There is no question that the children of today will need to grapple with issues in the future the complexity of which we adults today can’t even begin to imagine. We do know however that there has always been darkness. We know that violence, war, and inhumanity to fellow persons are as likely to arise in the future as they have in the past and that they are present in the world today.
We need to provide the space and the time for children and adults to think about these issues, to explore and discuss them safely, to dress up and enact and embody, and be scared- so that they learn the tools that will equip them - and all of humanity - to navigate with faith and depth of understanding whatever the future brings.
I think is easy to have faith, to live hopefully and cheerfully when things go to plan, but when they don’t, it is much harder. When things go wrong it calls into question our whole relationship with God, because surely a God who loves and protects us will not let us come to harm?
I think perhaps the God that we like to think we know has been made smaller, simpler, and nicer so that we ourselves can feel more comfortable- literally closing the church door on any unpleasantness out in the world.
As Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her beautiful book- Learning to walk in the dark (p168): “In the book of Genesis, darkness was first; light came second. Darkness was upon the face of the deep before God said anything. Then God said “light” and there was light, but the second word God said was not “Darkness” because the darkness was already there.” …
Christianity isn’t a religion of duality- there is God. And God is even when there is darkness. So we should teach the faith needed to walk through the dark - and that can’t happen behind the closed doors of a glowstick filled church.
“Those who are willing to wrestle with angels break out of their isolation by dirtying their hands with the emotions that rattle them most”.
This is the time of year we remember the dead, recall the inhumanities that are and have been perpetuated on others- and learn how to live lives that light up the dark for others.