In honor of Halloween and the Day of the Dead, I wore a crazy hat today – massive white fuzzy thing. Really ridiculous, but a pretty easy costume. Isn’t that what Halloween invites? A little bit of weirdness, playing in costume? Despite my willingness to play, no one was willing to talk to me! I had not one interaction about my silly costume at the coffee shop, nor the bagel shop where I went this morning, and if I looked at someone looking at me, they averted their eyes quickly – Oh! This uptight, on-time, play-adverse world I live in!
I grew up in a house where Halloween was a positive happy time to dress up and be silly – but none of that death-ghosts-spooky stuff. Too scary. I’ve also heard people use Halloween as a chance to enact another aspect of yourself – to dress up as someone you might want to “be for a day” or that is part of you, but with whom you don’t have much connection. Over the centuries many cultures have chosen this time to honor this fall season, the letting go of life, being intentional about celebrating life (good harvest! full barns!) and all who have “gone before.” We may as well play with this season – wear a big fuzzy hat, say – because it is real!
Dying happens. We die. Our work dies. Our call ends; we put it down. We must let go in order to rest, and then pick something new up; something fresh and alive. Halloween is a time to ritually honor the letting go. We have much to learn from the cultures who celebrate and honor those who have died – crossed over – become one of the saints. I can’ t wait to get to a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration on Sunday, where we will put photos of those we love and have lost on the altar, light a candle for their memory, and bring food to share that they would have liked! Why is that so scary? It’s simply real.
And how does this ability to – or lack thereof - honor and celebrate death as a part of life affect our call? Hugely. Can we lay down our call, knowing (or perhaps trusting) it is finished? Can we trust that new call will come? I see it over and over in our Make a Living Have a Life calls, at our retreats, and in our call small group conversations. We hate to die! We can’t let go! Surely we can keep carrying it! Surely we can keep doing it ALL! Surely if we look young, we won’t die! If I can just figure out better time management, better ways to do more, then I won’t be uncomfortable or sad at laying down my call.
We know there is a season for everything. Our wisdom literature teaches,
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot.... (Ecclesiastes chapter 3)
Our prayer books have prayers for this moment: “The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in You” – New Zealand Prayer Book. (By the way, that prayer line came to use via a tweet from our facebook friend Mike Groghan. Even technology can support wisdom’s way!)
I am surrounded by a peaceful ebbing,
as creation bows to the mystery of life;
all that grows and lives must give up life,
yet it really does not die.
As plants surrender their life,
bending, brown and wrinkled,
and yellow leaves of trees
float to my lawn like parachute troops,
they do so in a sea of serenity.
I hear no fearful cries from creation,
no screams of terror,
as death daily devours
once-green and growing life.
Peaceful and calm is autumn’s swan song,
for she understands
that hidden in winter’s death-grip
is spring’s openhanded,
full-brimmed breath of life.
It is not a death rattle that sounds over fields and backyard fences;
rather I hear a lullaby
softly swaying upon the autumn wind.
Sleep in peace, all that lives;
slumber secure, all that is dying,
for in every fall there is the rise
whose sister’s name is spring.
Autumn Psalm of Fearlessness by Edward Hayes, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim
So let’s be fearless in what we let go of, what we let die, and honest about what dies in us, and the possible loss and sadness it brings (we might ALSO feel hopeful, empty with a sense of possibility – who knows?). If we but look, we see mirrored for us in this season the invitation to let go. It is simply the truth of life, and of living a call-based life. After all, our faith teaches this Autumn season has a sister named spring. New call WILL come. It is the way of things.