A death-denying holiday: 10-31-11
October 31, 2011
All right, so it's Halloween and Americans have gone simply bonkers in recent years for the spooky holiday, which has religious roots.
As the Boston Globe reported recently, "the National Retail Federation is predicting that Halloween spending will hit $6.9 billion this year.That’s up a stunning 18 percent from last year’s estimated $5.8 billion bonanza."
So what's going on?
I can't prove this, but I'll heave out my theory to see if you like it: Halloween (and horror movies) is popular and gaining in popularity precisely because we are a death-denying culture that doesn't know how to talk about death or what to do about the reality that we all will die one day.
So Halloween is our now-secular substitute for serious death conversations and rituals. It lets us spit in the face of Mr. Death. It allows us to laugh into the abyss instead of staring into it in dread.
As many of you know, Halloween once was (and here and there still is) the Christian holiday called All Hallow's Eve, which is the eve of All Saints' Day. It was the eve of the Celtic new year, when it was understood that the souls of the dead would revisit their homes. (Raising the question of what about homeless people, but maybe we should let that question go for now.)
The ancient Celts understood death and were much more williing than most modern Americans to accommodate its reality into their lives.
Us? We get Halloween. Yes, it can be a fun holiday. And I'm not making any arguments against having a fine time on Halloween. But if it's just our way of avoiding serious conversations about our own inevitable death, what does that say about us? Especially because, as I've argued before, if we don't understand our own deaths we'll never understand our own lives.
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THIS POPE'S FUTURE IS. . .
Speaking of denying death, that's something you can't accuse the media of. Already there are stories surfacing about whether a slowing Pope Benedict XVI will retire or die in office. It's sort of a Vatican watchers' ghoulish game. And my money is on B-16 staying to the end. Now, can we get on to things less obvious but more meaningful than what is inevitable?
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THE BOOK CORNER
Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor, by Jana Riess. As Anne LaMott says, we all need some grace eventually. And the author of this kicky little book describes why -- because we all fail at spiritual disciplines, no matter how hard we try. This book is the honest-to-badness account of the author's attempts to live a life of holiness, prayer, thanksgiving and all those other practices each of us knows is good for us. Of course she fails. She fails because she, like us, is merely human. Which means we'll never be perfect. But the story of her failures is engaging and it gives the rest of us hope along with a deeper understanding that, in the end, life does not require us to be untouchable saints. Near the end of the book Riess tells the moving story of how, on the eve of the death of the father she hadn't seen or heard from in 26 years, she got a call to come to his death bed. The man had hurt her and her family in countless ways she she was 14 and he walked out of her life. But having gone through a year of trying to be a saint, she discovered that she really did have the ability to forgive. It's an instructive story worth your time to read. (By the way, my friends over at ReadTheSpirit.com have written about this book, too, and done a good interview with Jana Riess. To read that, click here.)