A strange day for a new beginning

Published 9:57 pm Thursday, October 28, 2021

By Chris Adams

Halloween is such a curious phenomenon.  Its name means ‘The Night before All Hallows’, which is a fancy way of saying it’s the day before the Christian festival All Saints Day.  For most of us, though, Halloween is less about ‘all the saints’ and more about Skittles, spider webs, and supernatural terror!  I like to dabble in both sides of Halloween, seeing as I’m a Christian priest and a candy-loving horror film aficionado.  Have you seen Halloween Kills, the new Michael Myers film? It’s fantastic if you can take the terror.

But, back to the topic at hand. I find Halloween to be such a curiosity because it’s the one night a year where we do the one thing it seems we can’t do any other night. Not trick or treating, although I dare you to trick or treat in July.  Rather, Halloween is a night where we bring out all the things that scare us, all the things that make us afraid, all the things that take residence in our nightmares and hide in the shadows of our closets.  We bring them out and we laugh at them.  We make a mockery of the things that once made us cower in fear and then we party.

This is the mindset we should have every day.  Not the ‘Trick or Treat’ mindset, gorging ourselves on candy.  But a mindset that refuses fear’s captivity and embraces freedom’s release.  But lest this become too abstract, I have a particular fear in mind that we would do well to face and defeat: the fear of self-examination.  This goes hand in hand with my writing last week about the phenomenon of scapegoating.

There’s a saying I’ve heard that I think is fitting (admittedly, I’ve cleaned up the language a bit): ‘If you meet one jerk in the morning, they are probably the jerk.  If everybody you meet during the day is a jerk, then you’re actually the jerk.” Part of fearing self-examination comes from, I believe, the unwillingness to accept that we might be wrong.  It’s become so difficult to admit publicly when we’ve made mistakes or to admit that an opinion, we once held was wrong yet we have evolved.

When we live our lives like this, however, our ability to admit our wrongs privately is hindered as well.  Everything teaches us something, and through that teaching we are shaped and formed as human beings.  Our refusal to own up to our mistakes and our persistent need to be right all the time shape us into people who prefer the sound of an echo chamber than the hard work of dialoguing with those with whom we disagree or have actually wronged ourselves.

This fear of self-examination also has another insidious effect.  As a pastor, I’ve heard over and over again from folks who want Jesus to make quick work of improving their mental health.  I’m here to tell you that Jesus doesn’t ever grant us the easy way out.  Regardless of your religious affiliation, our inability to dig deeply into ourselves stunts our growth as human beings and often traps us in unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior.

As someone in recovery from alcoholism, I know that my refusal to engage honestly with my own addiction kept me from enjoying as soon as possible the benefits of sober living.  That’s part of the reason why I am such a big believer in therapy.  A good therapist is someone who opens the cellar door of our heart, that place where all the monsters live, we don’t want to face, and throws us into it. I’ve always loved that description of therapy, and it seems even more fitting as we approach Halloween.

So, after you’ve gotten all your candy and finished watching Halloween Kills, perhaps take a few minutes and see what lies within you that you’ve pretended isn’t actually there.  Who knows, maybe this Halloween can be a beginning of a new life for you.  Wouldn’t that be funny? A day to celebrate ghouls, monsters, and death actually becoming a day of new beginnings.

 

Chris Adams is the rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington