It’s All Hallow’s Eve. How’d We Do?

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From Mary:

When I accepted Kristen’s challenge this month to look into the spookier side of our lives in general (and our spirituality in particular), I said that things like horror movies don’t really scare me.

I realized over the last few weeks that this isn’t entirely true.

The ‘80s slasher/man-in-mask horror movies don’t scare me at all. Friday the 13th, Halloween, Sleepaway Camp—I’m fine with all of those. (The best of these was much more recent. If you haven’t seen Hush yet, I highly recommend it.) Likewise, monster and alien movies are more fun than frightening. Once I got over my childhood fear of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, vampires, zombies, and werewolves didn’t seem so tough.

But there is one category that still scares the ever-loving daylights out of me: possession. I have never seen The Exorcist, and I didn’t work up the nerve to watch it this year either. I did, however, watch The Babadook  one night while I was home alone. (No, this wasn’t a good idea. Yes, I know that now.) My husband and I also watched The Conjuring which was truly terrifying. I can’t say I recommend it, but I can say that it made me want to sprinkle the house with holy water and sleep with a rosary under my pillow—so yeah, I guess I faced a fear there.

In a slightly less terrifying vein, I also did some reading on tarot cards. I was delighted to discover that they were originally a deck for playing various trick-based games, and the art is infused with Catholic culture and symbolism. Yes, they can and have been used in various occult practices, but that was not their original intent. As an avid board and card gamer and a Catholic, this was a pleasant surprise. A series of insightful articles on the history of tarot can be found here .

I also attempted to dive into the tradition of Catholic mystics by reading some Thomas Merton. Our dear friend, Cassidy Hall, is creating a documentary on Merton called Day of a Stranger. Some time ago she sent me a copy of The Seven Storey Mountain, but for lots of odd superstitiousy reasons I’ve been reluctant to read it. I finally began this month—and promptly lost my reading glasses. I know that sounds wonky, but this book is in 10-point type at best and these old eyes cannot do that. As soon as I find my readers I’ll get back on it and give an update—in the meantime check out the Facebook page for the documentary! Her previous project, In Pursuit of Silence was so beautiful; I cannot wait to see this one.

From Kristen:

So, I did it. I explored some in the dark—places I’ve been too afraid to visit—and lived to tell the tale.

I read up on Halloween traditions, and Samhain, and Dia de los Muertos. I learned a bit more about Jewish traditions, particularly around death and mourning. I find that I am fascinated by the ways that different cultures handle death. I will continue to learn more. (Currently, just amongst my 20 students are represented 13 different cultures and languages!)

I watched Coco and The Nightmare Before Halloween. I found both films charming. Both films made me think about this season from a different perspective. No, really. I get that they are kid films, but they addressed adult concerns. I see those issues–okay, dead people, all right?!–from a different lens angle now.

I went to Salem and walked amongst the witches (present and historical).  I interviewed a spiritualist, then let her give me a tarot reading. I have decades of teaching that has scared me away from even looking at such practices. So, I am interested in learning more about tarot, as it did not seem to be at all like conjuring evil spirits, but more like prayer and meditation to me.

I talked to friends who enjoy horror movies and books. Matt LaFleur gave me a new lens angle when he noted that he enjoys horror films, because he knows that when it is over, he can laugh about it. That coming through the dark, scary bits to the other side IS the point.

Upon recommendation, I tried—in the light of day—to watch Babadook. I got to the halfway point in the film before switching over to a comedy. Being frightened for entertainment is still not my cup of tea. Now I know that about myself. <resigned shrug>

I planned to go to the cemeteries where my grandparents are buried. I had never been before (with the exception of the graveside service for one of my Nanas).  It is on my To Do list for this coming weekend, because, well, it is time to face the scary bits of  cemetaries, and figure out what kind of comfort folks find there. I promise to report out if anything amazing happens, okay?

So, yeah. October was creepy and fascinating and enlightening for us both.

Happy Halloween!

Another Take on this Halloween Business

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For our first ever guest post, our friend Matt LaFleur reflects on his love of Halloween and all things spooky. 

Maybe it’s a fault of mine for loving Halloween so much. I can feel the wholesomeness of those who say their favorite holiday is Easter; I feel I should genuflect whenever I’m around them. They are the kind of people who send group texts on Easter morning: “Alleluia! He is risen!”

I am not one of those people.

Nor am I the type of person whose family has a birthday cake on Christmas and sings the happy birthday song to our Lord and Savior.

Maybe I have a problem: I don’t normally say “Alleluia!” and I think having a birthday party for God Incarnate is silly.

Even though I am a stick-in-the-mud when it come to fluffy and pious holidays, I am not always a nihilist. A perfect storm comes in October. The faux spider-webs and rubber smell of costume masks coming from the seasonal aisle in grocery stores fill me with anticipation.

Something wicked awesome this way comes.

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My Halloween-attraction may have reasonable roots. As someone born in mid-November, my childhood birthday parties were often celebrated early as Halloween parties. So wearing costumes, cooler weather, and orange and black spookiness fill me with a childhood glee. Maybe I never quite escaped that association.

Speaking of association, another reason I give for my love of Halloween is a psychological one. The symptoms of my gradually debilitating disorder, Friedreich’s ataxia, first showed up around age 10, the time I most cherished Halloween. The amazing candy. The air of fear for fun’s sake. The dressing up as a character, something other than you are normally. The escapism.

Wrapped up in my fondness for this holiday is the strange religious treatment of it. Halloween is popularly celebrated around here, in the densely Catholic land South Louisiana; but the most pious Catholics and many of my friends in Protestantism begrudgingly dole out candy and allow kids to dress in costume. They sometimes futilely name their celebration “Holy-ween,” and encourage kids to dress as Saints or Bible characters. Only the most unfortunate kids are forced to comply.

I won’t go into the fact that the root of Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve is the evening of All Saints’ Day. Because I don’t care. People will always find a reason to avoid the dark, the unsettling. Avoiding fear, and any reminder of death, is only natural; whether you use a nightlight or a Bible to do so.

Maybe both my childhood memories and coping with an unusual disorder made me this way: I love Halloween. I love losing myself in the dark, confronting chills and thrills.

One of my favorite things in the world is being in a movie theater as the lights dim and a scary movie begins, because I know that I will make it to the end of the movie, and laugh about it later.

Sometimes a reminder that I can overcome even my greatest fears invigorates me.

Just because I cannot see it, doesn’t mean I can’t believe it!”

Jack Skellington is arriving at his eureka moment as he sings this. His ridiculously long and lanky limbs, draped in a black pinstripe suit, hold up his awkwardly spherical skull head. Solitary in his tower, he questions his newfound love of Christmas, though he is a creature of Halloween, in the 1994 film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

“Oh,” my mom sighed as she walked into the living room. “You’re watching that. Again.”

She was frustrated, since I watched that movie over and over again as a child. She never forbade me from watching it, but the overall creepiness of the film repelled her.

My mom served as a reminder of the way most people view spookiness.

In a way, maybe I am the reverse Jack Skellington- born into piety, in a religious family, in a religious part of the country. My temperament and fear of sinning solidified me as an upright child of Christmas; but I was drawn to Halloween. Like Jack, I wanted to claim that holiday for my own. And maybe like Jack, as the movie shows, I will eventually crash and burn, but I can’t stop enjoying the creepy. I won’t stop.

Now in my thirties, I still smile when the air turns crisp. I never got over the sweet-tooth I had as a child, so I like to buy Halloween candy mix.To be honest, no kids come trick-or-treating at my house. I live off a busy highway, not in a cozy, kid-friendly neighborhood. No, I buy the Halloween candy just for me.

Maybe there is starting to be a legend among the kids in my small town, that the creepy old man who lives in that house next to the bayou who loves Halloween is up to something…I can only hope.

I am a child of holiness, of Christmas, drawn to the realm of shadow and spookiness. Allow me this. Don’t pelt me with your religiosity, your downward looks, and your pitying sighs. We all deal with the dark in different ways; some avoid it at all costs. Some make a game out of it and learn to see in it.

The idea of Halloween and Christmas mash-ups still are powerful to me. Last year, I found what has become my favorite horror podcast, Creepy.

My favorite episode is one in that combination of Christmas and spooky. (Warning: this episode terrifies me. Not for the faint of heart [Kristen].)

May your holiday be candy-filled, fun, and more than a little spooky. Happy Halloween.

Matt Lafleur is trying to get by as best he can. He battles his genetic disorder, Friedreich’s Ataxia, everyday. He wants to be known for more than just that though. He loves Marybeth, Kristen, and Halloween. You can read more from him over at Friedrich’s Ataxia News.

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A Challenge for October: Head into the Mystic, Try Not to Get Spooked

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Each month, we extend a challenge aimed at teaching us something about ourselves, our community, our faith, or maybe just to amuse us!

How can it be October –the twenty-sixth week of ordinary time–already? I haven’t finished planning my July 4th barbecue, and now the entire countryside is sprinkled in pumpkin spice!

This month’s challenge is one that Mary just might be giddy about. She loves all things October and Halloween and horror.

Me? Well, I have to confess that along with cutting ritual and symbolism in an attempt to be more practical or something, I also knocked the mystical out of my spiritual life. After I had my first child, I found that I had lost my stomach for horror movies and books. Being a mom was terrifying enough for me. That I spent two decades in a Pentecostal church that believes that all spirit beings that aren’t the Almighty or the archangels are demonic, and that celebrating Halloween is courting Satan sort of sealed that deal for me. After talking with Mary, and some other thoughtful, smart, creative people (I’m looking at you Sick Pilgrim folks!), I’m willing to consider maybe thinking about revisiting spooky stuff.

During last month’s exploration of ordinary sacramentals, I was surprised to recognize some thin places between, well, between my coffee cup and the heavens. I think I’m ready to venture a little further down this road, and what better time than the days leading up to All Hallow’s Eve?

Come with me! (And hold my hand, please.)

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