Facing our demons
It’s Halloween, the scariest night of the year. All across the Western world children will dress up as garish ghosts and ghouls for the love of sweets and fear and all things tricksy (and treaty!).
But beneath the tacky plastic surface evil lurks.
When I was a child Halloween was off-limits for precisely this reason. My mother would hand out pamphlets to trick-or-treaters warning them of the perils of celebrating a festival of darkness. I’m not really the tract-pushing kind of guy but I never rebelled against her veto. There is real darkness in the world and to make light of it trivialises it.
But making light of it is precisely what hundreds of churches will do tonight as they seek to lure children away from the ghosts of Halloween with their ‘Light Parties’. I appreciate the sentiment, but I wonder if it is missing the point.
Twitter (in its wonderfully disorganised, self-organising way) held an hour’s silence today in memory of James and Lily Potter who, according to J.K. Rowling’s best-selling Harry Potter novels, were murdered by Lord Voldemort 30 years ago today, on Halloween 1981. As one for whom, quite shamelessly, fiction is sometimes more real than fact, I shut down my computer and stood, alone in my kitchen, gazing at photos of my children. In the silence I breathed words to myself: ‘there is no cost too high.’
The legend of the Potters is one in which the brave must face their demons. Harry survives only because his mother could face down hers, and later only because he can face down his own. The legend of the Potters is that those who would truly live must count the cost. I’m reminded of what is arguably Jesus’ most extreme saying. ‘Anyone who seeks to save his life will lose it. But anyone who loses their life for me will find it.’ (Matt 16:25) Halloween is the festival of death. And to seek life without embracing death is to cushion and cocoon and ultimately suffocate. Our death is the truest certainty we have. And the truth will set us free.
As on this dark day I stand to remember those who did not falter in the face of evil but embraced death for love I recall one of Jesus’ followers who said ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18).
If we make light of the darkness, if we cover up our fears, if we pretend we are in control and impervious to evil… then we quietly become its slave. The brave among us face our demons – our debt, our addictions, our chronic fears, our loneliness, our regret, our failure, our secret loves – and do not flinch. We do not walk away from the dark reality of who we have become. We live in the night, walk in the shadows and play the quiet lament of our painful truths. For this night each year we are exposed.
At the same moment as the Twitter silence today, ordinary people met with MPs in Westminster to ask for transparency on UK loans made to poor-country dictatorships. What skeletons are in our closet, they asked? What unjust debts are we silently pressing on people who cannot afford them? This is the life that the death-obsession brings. Halloween is not just a moment for personal reflection, but for corporate, societal honesty as well.
Halloween is the darkness before the dawn; the spectre of the worst of us before the new day brings All Hallows and a celebration of the best of us.
The Light Parties should be scheduled for tomorrow. Tonight we bravely face the darkness.