Who Are You In The Book of Job

How do we forgive ourselves when we have harmed, even maimed, someone else?

There was a man name Alan I spoke with who went to the hospital for a routine podiatrist appointment. An accident occurred while he was driving his vehicle to the hospital, resulting in a gentleman losing his leg.

“I thought my foot was on the brake. I was putting it in park.”

Alan’s foot slipped, the vehicle kept going. The vehicle struck a hospital worker, resulting in a severe injury to the hospital worker’s leg. Days later, we all found out amputation of said leg was needed.

Alan was angry, ashamed, sorrowful, and suffering of total despair. He couldn’t help but see dark and bitter irony to the circumstance, coming to the hospital for a small procedure on his foot and, in his own words, “at the expense of someone else’s leg.”

In our conversation, Alan repeated Christian motifs over and over, his knowledge of Christ saving us from our sins, forgiveness that comes through Him alone and His sacrfice. Nonetheless, he couldn’t forgive himself, indicating he should have never come to the hospital. It didn’t matter to Alan that this was an accident, and the grace that he believes Christ gives him didn’t seem to address the personal resentment he had for himself for this accident. Alan was furious with himself, calling himself a list of names and regarded his own medical needs—having cancer in addition to diabetes that was affecting his foot—as insignificant in light of the event. I think in part Alan wished he would have suffered bodily himself, to be martyr to his own medical complications rather than suffer the accident. Putting myself in his shoes, I don’t blame him for such sentiments. I can’t imagine living with that guilt, even knowing it was a total accident.

How are we to make sense of such things? Both Alan and the medical worker suffer from immeasurable grief from something accidental, something so blameless. There was no impariment. There was no malice. What is to be said to Alan? What is to be said to the medical worker? What consolation or sense can be made out of this?

We are tempted to offer our own explanation for such things, to provide some answer for the calamity. We offer this both when we are asked and sometimes we offer this unsolicited. But it is a haughty thing for us to espouse a particular meaning or message out of it, and we must be careful as we attempt to offer explanation that we do not become like Job’s friends.

In the Book of Job, we hear the tale of a righteous man who undergoes undeserved suffering. The reader sees in the beginning that Job is tested due to the devil being given certain permissions to afflict Job; Satan seems to think Job will stop praising God once his fortune turns around, and God allows Satan—with some parameters—to afflict Job. Job laments for the lives lost in the calamity, for the illness he endures. He does voice some hard questions to both God and to his friends that come to “comfort him.” But what we find at the end of the Job’s story is that Job is not satisfied with the explanation for his senseless suffering, nor is God satisfied. At the very end, God restores Job and gives Job the holy responsibility to offer prayers and sacrifice on behalf of his friends who attempted to rationalize the calamity. In short, God rewards Job for wrestling with Him and with the calamity, whereas the friends are looked down upon for their poor counsel.

Looking back on my conversation with Alan, I can’t help but see Job shine in him. Alan is a dedicated man of prayer, faithful in reading his devotionals, doing his daily prayers, and can theologize about grace. Alan carries a kind of blameless record that Job had of being an upstanding servant of the Lord. Like Job, there is wrestling for the calamity, questioning as to why he has to suffer such things. 

But no answer will suffice, perhaps because it is not our part to offer the answer and perhaps because both the sufferer and the counselor cannot examine any answer until a due time presents such clarity. In short, empathy does not come in the form of explanation, and answers cannot provide a balm of healing to such pain.

I think of another encounter I had some time ago with a grieving grandmother and her family as they were about to pull life support from a poor teenage boy who had shot himself. Why had the grandmother’s prayers not been answered? Why had this boy not been protected from such a horrible tragedy in spite of all the prayers and devotion the family had to God? 

“What am I supposed to tell my daughter who is grieving her son and my grandson?” The grandmother asked me quite angrily—and understandably irate. “What can I offer her?”

“Today is not a day for answers. You cannot provide your daughter with that answer, and neither can I. And truthfully, I’m not sure any answer will suffice how awful this tragedy is. But here you are, pouring your soul out. You are here for your family, you are here for your daughter, and for your grandson. That’s what matters. That’s what she needs. That’s what this family needs.”

All praise to God for giving that to me in such a harrowing moment.

Similarly, I nor anyone else could give Alan a proper explanation for such a senseless and horrible thing.

That being said, Alan and I did pray, and we prayed for his health and for his needs to be met. But we also prayed for the medical worker who had lost his leg, for his needs to be met. We prayed acknowledging only God’s hand being able to sustain them both in these awful circumstances. Alan cried at that, shaking horribly as we prayed for this man. In closing of the prayer, i saw some hope in Alan’s eyes. He found some hope in this. Further, Alan seemed open to the possibility of becoming an intercessor for this medical worker for the rest of his life, to lift this man’s concerns up in his own prayers each day.

Did this accident happen so that Alan would become a prayer warrior? Did the man had to lose his leg in order to have an intercessor? It’s not for us to pose such possibilities. God has purpose, but it is His and not our own.

That being said, I do believe God uses us to two specific ends when we are witnesses to calamity, when we are Job’s friends:

-Sit in the muck of the tragedy with the Job in our life. Don’t sugar coat, silver line, or wax on about some answer we have little discernment of. Let us not presume to be God or know His will…

-But let us fervently pour our heart out in prayer for God’s hand to be in that calamity. Rather than use our words to imagine meaning, let us ask God to make meaning and make mercy in light of the tragedy.

-Lastly, encourage action, with discernment. While I think it’s not our place to offer answers, I think offering action can provide catharsis. That being said, this is something earned and not granted. We ought not lead our empathy with suggestions. In the case of Alan, at the end of the visit, I suggested the possibility of him praying for this man, and it seemed earned as it came after our prayer together and I could see both grace and hope shine forth. In the case of the grandmother, I had sat with the family for about an hour silently listening, confessing my own powerlessness in the circumstances. When the grandmother asked what she could possibly do or say for her daughter while feeling so powerless, I offered her to see to what she was already doing, to continue doing what she was doing: showing up, being present, and nothing more or less than that.

Brothers and sisters, let us forgive each other and one another and seek out the Lord for forgiveness. Let us acknowledge the suffering each of us endures and provide what Job lacked in his friends. 

The Attack on Beauty: Halloween And Humanity’s Inner Dissonace

This particular year, my daughter has been rather vocal about the impact of Halloween decoration she sees all around us.

She’s young and understandably narrates most of her day, what she’s seen, what she’s done. But the manner in which she carries on about witches, glowing red eyes, and all the particularly dark ornamentation comes across as being grossly perturbed. Even at a fall festival kids costume party my family saw a child, not even a teenager, dressed in a some pop culture killer costume that neither of us could identify but nonetheless unmistakably knew belonged to the slasher genre. My wife and I reassure her that the decoration is just that and not real, that these things cannot harm her. Nonetheless, it’s given me pause this year to wonder about American fascination for everything gruesome and evil.

Why the devils? Why the witches? Why the serial killers?

The temptation to call all these figures and manifestations as meaningless is unsatisfactory. These fascinations are remarkable and noteworthy, and beg for some analysis much as a dream or pathological behavior would require analysis from psychotherapy.

Another temptation would write off our celebration of Halloween as humanity’s outlet for death. Still, I think this is inadequate. While the Latin American celebration of Day of the Dead, as far as I can see, provides some cultural merit and de-sterilizes a culture on the stigma of death while reminding families to pray for their loved ones. It may be in part true that America attempts to get over its hang up on the uncomfortable idea of death through our morbid scenes and costumes–such cases have been made why the zombie genre was so popular in our country for so long. Still, it doesn’t account for the aforementioned costumes and figures of Halloween that are deeply satanic.

We don’t seem to be portraying monsters and demons in a cautionary or benign manner. We seem to be glorifying them, out terrifying one another by conceiving of more horrific figures. Halloween is not some lived out ritual wherein a repulsive krampus is brought out to scare the population just before St. Nicholas comes in to defeat the evil. No. Rather, it is a procession of evil without good, a long minor chord without any resolve. It’s the terrible horror movie where all the main characters die, the monster wins, and somehow we are ok with this.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have dark taste. I see value in books and movies that capture humanity’s capacity for evil. I listen to music that speaks about pain and sorrow. I am not one to sterilize all media and myth to be only bright and happy fairy tales. Ancient cultures, including those from our own Western myths, have not relented to speak about abusive gods and horrific monsters. Even Holy Scripture does not withhold painful details of humanity’s dark heart and the gore that we can conceive of. Dark media–just like all media–has its place so long as it is purposeful.

But glorifying the dark or the evil just for the sake of it isn’t purposeful. That’s just patronage.

What I have gathered about this glorification of evil is an unaligned attempt to convey one’s own inner dissonance. We prop up these figures beyond the margin of society, perhaps, because some of us feel ourselves on the margin of society. Perhaps we have a personal disconnection from our own family. Perhaps we couldn’t find our healthy niche in school. An inner exile occurs while still living within our communities. With that, we convey our own inner dissonance through an acting out, through the portrayal of the figures cast off into he margins: expelled demons, witches left to live in the wilderness, etc.

I believe most of this to be attention seeking behavior, an acting out as an attempt to address the unacknowledged pain of disenfranchisement and loneliness.

It is perhaps equally true–or even more true–that none of us have been shown or conveyed true beauty by our closest confidants and therefore we reach for the low-hanging fruit of shock, ugliness, and darkness. Let’s be honest, walking through America’s oldest and greatest cities is nothing like walking through the oldest and greatest cities of Europe. Our architecture is bland and sterile, and our iconoclastic roots of puritanism meant that America’s inception came without a great deal of beauty or art. While our country did have the foundations of Scripture as its rudder and moral compass, I believe we are seeing centuries later the consequence of the sterility that comes from a solo-Scriptura tradition that endeavors little to create, to convey beauty in new and wholesome ways. As a side note, perhaps it is only too ironic that the celebrated Reformation Day should fall on a day that has ached for art and beauty.

This is not a call to action to stop dressing up for Halloween, and stopping all together–even sheltering–I don’t think addresses our country’s real need.

Instead, I believe the answer to this malady comes from noticing those of us who are on the margins and showing them something beautiful. This could be literal in sharing with them a truly beautiful composition of music or piece of art or story. But the beauty could be just as simple as one’s own kindness and curiosity of their life. Perhaps the easiest answer of this is–in borrowing from Fr Josiah Trenham–the adopting of the beautiful life, the transformed life of truly lived and imitated Christianity that is unmistakably beautiful and bright. And within that Christianity, we ourselves have to understand what is beautiful, what we can adore and share. Yes Scripture is beautiful, and God gives us more than Scripture to rejoice about, to celebrate as beautiful: iconography, architecture, hymnography, the lies of saints, and so much more.

Let us take a moment this Halloween to recognize the catalysts of this mania, to analyze this sick hunger for the darkness. Let us stare in the face of our own sterility and mediocrity, and let us be intentional in both prayer and compassion for those around us who are on the margins that they do not adopt monsters on the margins as their heroes to celebrate.

Let us behold beauty. Let us adopt beauty. Let us be changed by it. Let us infuse it in all we do and recreate it in our works and in our living.

Happy Eve of All Saints.

Childhood Nightmare-The Reaper

As a preface, I’ve been especially curious about childhood nightmares as I’ve discussed my own nightmares with others and listened to friends discuss theirs to me. There’ a strong case to be made why examination of childhood nightmares possesses a great utility for each of us. Namely, children begin to think in terms of symbols quite early, just after developing motor functions. Piaget’s stages of development underlines how ages 2-7 are marked by symbolic thinking, or using objects to represent themes, emotions, etc. This speaks to how children grow quickly in language at this age and how alive imagination is within these years. Whatever dreams we remember from these ages (and even a few years thereafter as we learn new ways of thinking) are sure to possess some deep and rich messages.

Throughout my writing on dream interpretation, I’ll be borrowing not only from my dreams but dreams that have been confided in me, disguising each name to protect the anonymity of the dreamer, calling all said instances “friends” even if they happen to be strangers, family members, coworkers, etc.

My hope in this endeavor is not merely to unpack the symbols of said dreams/nightmares to provide individual catharsis and direction, but to open the conversation of childhood nightmares to this audience that we may be curious as to the themes that our psyche is screaming at us to pay attention to.

The Grim Reaper

Somewhere around kindergarten and 1st grade, I’d experience a recurring nightmare that followed me even in late elementary school years. The dream itself occurred with less frequency as I grew older but eventually manifested in other ways in college.

The first time I experienced this dream, it was set somewhere in my home, in the late hours of the night. I was walking out from my bedroom towards our living room. The TV light was the only thing illuminating the room and I knew my parents were in the room. They gave the most minimal acknowledgement of seeing me.

And then, an inexplicable feeling of dread happened upon me, and unconsciously I felt a need to do two things: scream and fall to the floor. Both were automatic, almost compulsory.

The more I reflect on my scream, I think of it as an intention to either warn everyone of something I detected or meant to conjure whatever it was that I detected or anticipated, as though to “get it over with”. The scream was always marred with fear. 

After falling automatically flat, in a matter of seconds I’d feel something approach me from behind, scoop me up, and carry me off. I remember feeling or perhaps in my peripheral seeing this figure that scooped me away. It was reminiscent of the dementors of Harry Potter, of the Grim Reaper in its dark, hooded, faceless demeanor (mind you, Harry Potter hadn’t come out then, but when the dementors were described I felt they bore a chilling resemblance to the thing of my nightmare). 

What was always strange about this was knowing this grim figure would carry me off somewhere into the darkness while someone else would look on without any reaction, word, or protest. In the case of my first dream, the grim figure carried me in its arms in front of my parents in order to get to the basement door where we both vanished into the blackness.

Recurrence of the Dream

The dream would repeat itself sometimes in my home but in a different lighting, and sometimes the dream would manifest in other houses or locations. All seemed to be indoor settings. What was common of all these was how sudden and surprising the presence of the grim figure would be, and how an instinct of mine would always compel me to scream and then to drop dead. This nightmare continually caught me off guard though the pattern of screaming, falling, and being carried off all continued.

Later on, particularly in seminary, I found the dream resurface in different homes (the dream setting would be less familiar). The surprise of this grim figure altered from a hooded figure of death into a known presence of evil dwelling within the house or within a particular room. What also changed in the dream was my reaction. I didn’t feel more autonomy in the dream, but something seemed to flip as instead of acknowledging this evil force in a fearful scream, I raised my voice into an indignant shout. My shrill cry became angry barking of prayers almost as though I were exorcising the evil force I knew to be there. I’d finish the dream feeling a sense of victory, feeling the presence leave, feeling the house safe and quiet.

This dream repeated itself for years in my schooling. It was still a fearful dream that I felt could easily become a nightmare, and sometimes they did turn into just that. Overwhelmingly I felt the dream itself evolve, and I do see a kind of continuity between the grim reaper I would collapse before and the evil presence that I would stand to challenge.

Symbols & Interpretation

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The most obvious figure in this dream is this dreaded force, this grim reaper like character. I’d always given the figure the title of the grim reaper as this is what I saw as the personification of death growing up. There is a temptation here to lean heavily on the theme of death–especially considering that the prospect of death was a conversation I had with my mom in early elementary school and it was not one that filled me with much hope. But the theme of a hooded figure could also be a representation of the literal unknown, a fear of hiddenness, a despising of that which is covert. The figure was dark, hidden, and felt predatory as it came after me, and simply put, we could say my young mind decided to personify evil in this way–evil is shadowy, faceless, and filled with want. All very real possibilities and I’m sure there’s other symbols here one could extrapolate.

What’s also worth noting is that my primary fear was not of death–I actually suffered more nightmares about tornados when I was young, and growing up I had developed a great fear for tornados–and so I am inclined to place the focus of this dream interpretation not on the figure itself, but on the circumstances.

A common element of these dreams is that they all happened indoors, in a home setting. I’m tempted to ignore this detail–home is an easy base for any dream to begin within a atmosphere that is known and comfortable. That being said the home itself can represent safety and as we said “the known”. The implications of finding evil or death in a place I deem safe and knowable has some powerful connotations.

The other common element is the tendency towards screaming. I wouldn’t deem this detail as a natural reaction for a child, especially because the scream itself always seemed to trigger the force to come after me. Rather, I’ve thought of this reaction in tandem with the component of the dream that has to do with onlookers doing nothing as I’m carried off. Do I feel I am suffering alone and that my cries for help go unnoticed? Do I feel alone in my fear, pain, or peril? Or even more simply, do I feel a need to be acknowledged–the scream is meant to perhaps get attention, and the nightmare is made more eerie when nobody seems to react or budge seeing me in the arms of death.

The last notable element is the collapse, the complacency to pretend to be dead. I wouldn’t say this reaction comes from the grim reaper taking away my life force. Instead, I can discern a part of me felt like it was easier to lay down and die rather than to fight, to flee, or to stand my ground. It reminds me of a cat that goes limp in a leash harness–allegedly cats do this as a natural reaction to play dead when they feel they are in the jaws of a predator. This begs the question of whether this reaction of mine is innate and natural or if it speaks to how I deal with opposition or conflict: lay down, let the peril blow over, let it pass.

What To Do With The Dream

There’s a lot of symbols and material to dissect in this dream, though the most powerful reflections I have found helpful in my interpretation of this dream is the scream and the laying down, or rather what those represent: a fear of loneliness and neglect and fatalistic submission

Vainglory has been a passion I’ve struggled against for a long time, though gaining attention as an introvert isn’t so easy. I sometimes think of my days in theater as a manifestation of a safe means of gaining attention, of gaining the spotlight of an anonymous crowd as I myself don the mask of the part I am playing. If I say or do something on stage, it is the part I play that is judged or embraced, while I as a person can still gain the attention I secretly crave. This is just one such example which I think other actors might sympathize with.

The scream speaks to a need to learn how to reach out in a healthy/safe way that can be heard. As my dream demonstrates, there is an underlying fear that as I reach out or seek attention, others will merely stare on while I suffer in front of them. The scream speaks to a need to find healthy ways of being noticed, in ways that are appropriate and normal in relationships. Finally it communicates perhaps a need of feeling heard. However, in order to properly address this need of being heard one ought to also master how to hear/listen to others.

The “falling” in the dream couples well with the later manifestation of the dream. Succumbing to defeat and throwing my hands up when trouble comes my way is a personal struggle I’ve been able to identify in my life. In the past, I’ve given up on stories that become too difficult to write and my mind has a tendency to assume “the end” when a project or environment becomes too overwhelming. Fighting this force would assume a “disagreeable” disposition, would assume confidence to fight against a threat despite the stacked odds. Even fleeing (an alternative to falling in the dream) communicates a hope that one might escape the problem and find refuge elsewhere. In laying down, my psyche is communicating to me a tendency to be a walking mat for my problems and accept a disposition of submission.

Coupled with the other dream, the lying down and standing to exorcise against the evil threat is my psche telling me I have the capacity to grow bold, to assume a different posture. The latter dream communicates that confidence can be held, and that perhaps there is power in my voice. For example, in my nightmare I scream and it triggers something, in my other dream I shout and it subdues the threat. Perhaps my psche is telling me my physical posture and my mental posture is looking take an upright stance and challenge the threats of my life, telling me that my weapon in my fights is not force or cunning, but my own voice and words.

To conclude, this dream encourages me (and perhaps you’ll feel encouraged as well) to do the following:

  • Monitor my need for getting attention; seek out healthy relationships where being heard is valued and reciprocated
  • Assume an upright posture in the face of danger; keep practicing courage even when laying down (my posture, my eyes, my voice) comes easy
  • Use my voice and words to address fear and evil

What about you?

Did you suffer from childhood nightmares?

Genesis 23-Gift Giving

Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.

Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites.[a] He said, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”

The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”

Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.”

10 Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. 11 “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give[b] you the field, and I give[c] you the cave that is in it. I give[d] it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.”

12 Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13 and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”

14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels[e] of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”

16 Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.

17 So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded 18 to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. 19 Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.

This reading of Genesis comes across as a Mediterranean family arguing over the bill at a restaurant. All parties become aggressively generous, dismissing each other’s graciousness to insist that they cover the bill. At its best, it’s an affable yet clumsy dance of generosity. At its worst, it’s a battle of wits, the most stubborn of the contest becoming the winner, paying perhaps for the food but in the end rewarded with a sense of superiority for being able to peacock their finances.

This back and forth between Abraham and Ephron has the potentiality of being both, of each party having good intentions while also gaining something selfish in refusing the other’s generosity.

The story reminds us that Abraham is fairly well off from all his adventures, but has become very poor through the death of his wife. He has settled among a new tribe that seems peaceful enough to dwell among, decent enough for him to dialog with. Even the people in the land regard Abraham as a “mighty prince” and perhaps see him and admire him or fear him. Abraham states his intentions, wondering who he may purchase land from to bury his wife. The people, including their leader, Ephron, insist that money is not a concern and that Abraham has free reign to choose from where he pleases.

Abraham insists on paying. Ephron and his people insist that he can have the needed land at no cost. The dialog goes back and forth like a tennis match.

ephron the caretaker

When we look at these circumstances from the perspective of Ephron and the Hittites, there’s a dozen possibilities as to why they are so insistent to give Abraham the land at no cost.

For one, Abraham is regarded as a mighty prince. As mentioned before, Abraham is known of even if he is “a stranger.” What remains unknown is if the people admire him for his power and wealth or are in fear of him. Bringing gifts to a foreign tyrant is not an atypical act for these times, but neither is buttering up a possible ally. Abraham’s power could be of interest to them, and the offer of the free land in some way is a transaction: buying off his wrath, or gaining a favor for his alliance in their time of need.

Another possibility is that Ephron’s insistence is a bit of a show, a kind of virtue signaling to bolster his character. We hear that Ephron has this dialog with Abraham in the company of his people. One can imagine his people seeing Ephron’s insistence of giving up the land is a morally good act and therefore he is to be regarded as a good leader. Another possibility is that Ephron wishes his people to see his power and wealth, to give up land for free is to perhaps communicate that he has something of great value that can be spared. Either way, there’s a possibility that Ephron’s personal interests in this are towards his own reputation. This isn’t something foreign to us today.

The positive spin on this story is that Ephron merely sees a grieving husband and is moved towards a gesture of empathy. Perhaps Ephron has lost someone in his life already. Perhaps Ephron fears of losing his own spouse seeing Abraham grieve. Even for those of us who have a hard time expressing our condolences see a value in providing a gift at the funeral: perhaps donating flowers, setting up a meal train, etc. Grief and loss comes for us all at one point in our lives, and perhaps this universal dynamic inclines Ephron and his people to invite Abraham to use their land as if he was their own kindred: they become brothers in this common human experience.

Abraham the loyal skeptic

As for Abraham, there’s some possibilities as to his insistence to pay for Sarah’s funeral.

The most immediate possibility, perhaps, is that this is a matter of pride to Abraham. Abraham has done very well for himself and so anything that comes for free to him is beneath him. Perhaps he sees the people’s gesture as robbing him of his status, of stealing away a sacred duty. Perhaps Abraham has struggled to ask for help in the past–an argument could be made of this as we see how often Abraham attempts to rely on his own wit, strength, and means before asking for God’s assistance.

Perhaps Abraham sees the gift as dangerous, not unlike the King of Sodom’s offer made after Abraham wins a war and frees his nephew Lot. We spoke earlier how gift giving has a temptation of becoming transactional, how receiving a gift can open up a gate for favors and undesired behavior as though we are handing the gift recipient a “free pass” to our own personalities. Abraham could see this gift and become afraid of repercussions, wondering if it might lead anyone to believe that he is in alliance with anyone, that Abraham might take sides when he has only tried to live for God.

The hope, however, is that Abraham has altruistic motives in insisting on paying. It’s plausible that Abraham shows how his treasure is not an attachment, and therefore insists on hospitality and generosity to those who he calls stranger, to those who perhaps have already been good neighbors to him. It’s also possible that Abraham’s payment is a solemn duty he has to place responsibility on himself to bury his wife. While Abraham is poor in land–being essentially a nomad going from place to place and living only on the outskirts of other cities–he is rich in his treasure, and so he wants some assurance that even the land he purchases is something not borrowed but something he can call his own, a sacred space that he can visit, consecrate, and adorn as he pleases for his wife.

A side note to this point is to remind us all that spending lavishly among our dead is not necessarily a gesture of dignity and love, but sometimes a strong arm of guilt that is sold to us. When our time comes to make arrangements for our loved ones, I think it important we not be ambushed by glitz and guilt at funeral parlors, but rather go in with an accountable voice that reassures us that we need not tack on zeros to a price tag to show love to those we have lost. The only true form of love we can show after that person’s passing is through prayer and fond remembrance.

Today, consider the following:

  • In what ways have you given a gift that consciously or unconsciously had something attached to it?
  • In what ways have we appeased someone because we wanted their favor or were intimidated by them? How can we be mindful of this while still maintaining integrity?
  • Consider yourself in Abraham’s shoes. What would the greatest thing a stranger could do for you or say to you?
  • When have you refused someone else’s generosity or act of kindness out of pride? What are some ways we can foster humility?
  • How difficult is it to ask for help or accept someone else’s help? What gets in the way? What can we do to let people in?
  • In what ways can we consecrate that which we love, both the living and the dead?

Don’t Cancel Halloween-Memento Mori

Holidays are an interesting thing.

Beneath each holiday seems to be an ancient story, a significant piece of history, that we can eternally and mystically relive despite being years, decades, centuries away from said event. Though most holidays are celebrated around such significant historic/religious events, sometimes it seems holidays either evolved or became instituted to have a mandate of recalling one important theme. Yam Kippur emphasizes the need to repent, and New Years similarly incites in us a feeling of starting anew. Thanksgiving emphasizes the importance of gratitude, and Christmas carries with its joy of the Incarnation also the importance of charity. We could spend quite some time on the list, but it seems underneath each holiday, each story and event, is an important lesson for humanity.

Now, most of us are pragmatic and realize the difficulty it is to live out these holidays THROUGHOUT our lives. Afterall, we should be starting anew, grateful, charitable EVERY DAY instead of just one day of the year. Still, to celebrate, think on, celebrate, and prepare for that one particular holiday and its humanitarian component has its merit. Hopefully the season leading up to Christmas is filled with charity, and in that time that we embody the charity we get accustom to it and grow our capacity for it.

Now that leave us to wonder if there is in fact any merit to Halloween. I hear the concern of a more fundamentalist/traditional mindset that looks upon this Halloween and deeming it as evil and dangerous to celebrate, that the ignorant indulgence of Halloween plays a part in a celebration for something monstrous or demonic. It seems that the ancient institution of the holiday MAY have pagan origins, of a superstitious acknowledgement of the spiritual activity on that particular autumn night. One might even argue that we should cancel Halloween because it is a ritual towards evil, a kind of libation to dark forces in our celebration.

I would like for a moment to acknowledge the concern voiced above, while also offering an alternative way of viewing Halloween…

Devotion to Debauchery

Let’s be honest. Halloween does embody vice into its celebration. But I would argue no more vice than Mardi Gras.

First, let’s speak to the topic of indulgence.

Like most holidays, Halloween is a “feast”, a day of partaking in more of something than what we might on any other day. Mardi Gras and Thanksgiving tend to be feasts of gluttony of meats, especially Mardi Gras that begins right before the beginning of Western Lent. And most holidays, especially New Years and St. Patrick’s day, all seem to increase the partaking of alcohol within their festivity. While Jesus does seem to highlight that there ARE in fact occasions for celebration even with wine, I would still point out that the over-consumption of such vices that we have pointed out can be “demonic” as Halloween is accused of being.

On Halloween, our consumption typically is that for sweets, especially when we think of Trick Or Treat. Still, alcoholic consumption is not uncommon among young adults who put on lewd costume parties and drunkly celebrate shamelessly in anonymity.

Which brings me to my next point…

The anonymity of the masks we wear on this day as well as the permission to dress untraditionally–such as in a lewd manner–is another distraction of this holiday. I say distraction because when one thinks on the inception and traditional celebration of this holiday the garb of bad jokes, scant outfits, and all manner of base apparel on this day doesn’t seem to fit the dark overtones that Halloween traditionally convey. A simple google search for “Halloween Costumes” reveals the absurdity of dress that we endeavor towards, dressing as genitalia, as half-naked representations of literally any role/occupation you can think of, and the assortment of cheap-laugh get ups that warrant nothing more than a single chortle and glance.

Though I tend to be more traditional in my celebration of Halloween, I would argue that the aforementioned costumes are less appropriate than some of the most gorish, ghoulish costumes I see roaming the street, that of ghosts, monsters, and slasher villains. These former, gimmicky costumes are deviations of the holiday, so far removed from anything reminiscent of death or of the spirit world. But then again, would we not say the same for the scant and glimmering costumes/masks we wear during Mardi Gras?

I suppose the last “unhelpful” component of Halloween I find is when we go overboard in the direction of Halloween’s ethos. We have a weird relationship with death in Western civilization. We dress up death, making it look tidy and sterile in our funeral homes, even encouraging loved ones to NOT see the body of their loved ones in their natural state in the hospital. And yet, we glorify the gore and macabre nature of it with our plethora of zombie movies and the devilish costumes we conceive of for Halloween. Though I think the attention we ought to have for Halloween is in the right direction here, I think the celebration and careless basking within it only further alienates us from real death. Perhaps seeing the scores of brainless zombie husks destroyed before our eyes on TV helps us cope with the ugliness of a human body, helps us take the humanity out of the corpse before us.

But it begs the question…is that helpful?

Remembrance of Death

Death happens all the time all around us, but for most of us we don’t have professions or live in environments where that exposure is so frequent. Speaking with those in careers of public service–whether it be the police department, firefighters, or medical workers–often offers a unique perspective on life and how fragile a thing it is. But while encountering such danger and tragedy is not for all of us, I do believe the aknowledgement and remembrance of death is important for every single one of us, no matter our creed or our vocation.

I believe Halloween grants the opportunity of putting a wise old saying into practice: remember your death.

Most of us are blessed with a clean bill of health, blessed to have family and friends who are in good shape and expected to live long lives. Not all of us are so blessed, however. Some of us have experienced loss far too early in our lives, have experienced the bitterness of death from an unexpected onset of sickness or a sudden tragedy.

We too often take our life, our vitality, our health for granted, believing that we ourselves and our loved ones will have until our 70s+ to live. Still, none of us have a single guarantee that we will wake up the next day, will have a safe drive to or from work, or suddenly suffer some life-interrupting affliction or calamity.

Fearing the possibility of our departure–or the departure of our loved ones–isn’t necessarily healthy, but the constant acknowledgement of it will help us live differently in a more meaningful way. There is a gratitude and a sobriety in this kind of lifestyle, of finding value in even bad days when nothing seems to go our way, of treading carefully in what we eat, drink, and spend time in with the consideration that our choices could affect the years of our life. Precious commodities increase in value when there is a short supply of the thing that is traded, and so if we look at the very hours of our lie as an uncertain commodity that could suddenly run out in a year, month, week, or even a day, we will then have more prudence in how we spend that precious time.

Halloween reveals to us the grim truth of life, that death is coming for all of us. If we even forget to remember our death 364 days out of the year, only to remember once out of the year that we are all going to die someday (perhaps that every day) maybe we then can make a segment of our life “hallowed”.

day of the dead

The other important component to Halloween I believe is the attention we give to not merely death but to the other aspect of our lives that we too often forget: spirit. Halloween reminds us not only of our mortality, but of those who have tasted death, and some cultures have done this in an incredible manner.

Day of the Dead and All Saints Day place particular emphasis on the importance of remembering those who we have lost, giving us occasion to grieve, mourn, and reminisce. It also should give us a comfort that nobody is truly forgotten, that we are created with the intention of being remembered, of being eternal, of living in communion no matter the divisions that separate us from one another.

I believe that Halloween and Day of the Dead also pry us out of an inherited mode of thinking, of a materialistic mindset that dominates our every day life. Too often we only consider that which is in front of us, that which his tangible, paying mind to only that which seems immediately relevant and controllable.

But there is ancient wisdom in considering the flip side to the reality we experience, the reality of spirit. We are soul and body, and although we have a better understanding of the physical part of our nature and the nature around us, we ought to give some consideration to the ramifications of having a spiritual realm around us. The ghosts and ghouls we see everyone dressing up as should be a sobering reminder that just as powerful forces exist physically before us–both wild and machine–that wild forces also exist in spirit. Conversely, we should look at the good things of nature and consider that goodness also exists in spirit.

The issue is that we fail to address this spirit, in the sense of protecting ourselves from it and engaging in it in a healthy/responsible way.

The sight of such ethereal entities we dress ourselves as ought to give us at least one day out of the year to stop and consider the existence of this invisible realm, the distractions in our life that get in the way of our recognition of it, and the ramifications it has on our souls and our lives.

Hallow your eve

Thus, this Halloween, as you look up to see if Trick-or-Treat is cancelled due to the current pandemic, as you think twice before going to that Halloween party or what you might be for it, consider how your Halloween can be “Hallowed” by which I mean literally “set apart” (the actual definition of holy/hallow).

Consider how this day can be to you and those you love set apart from the other 365 days of the year.

Even for those of you who are leery of its celebration, who still see it is a demonic day, consider how you can “baptize” or “sanctify” this particular evening. Can we not for a moment consider how God invites us to remember our death, to contemplate on our mortal being, the importance of our very souls? As though this holiday were a pagan in need of saving, fully immerse it in sobriety and holiness, christening it with a new name, that we may train for a new awareness to our souls’ betterment.

Spend some time, be it only one hour, aknowledging your mortality, considering a bucket list of things you feel you ought to do, journaling a list of things you are grateful for, contemplating what changes you can make in your life considering this fragility of life.

Spend some time remembering those you’ve lost. Engage with them safely, not through occult practices but in a prayerful way, as though they can hear you, of how you miss them. Pray for them, journal to them, visit their gravesite. Macabre as this practice seems one might find this practice of relating to the dead cathartic and eye-opening to one’s own life.

Most of all, be safe this Hallows Eve and be responsible. Take the evening not in vain for cheap laughs or as an excuse for drunkenness or sex. All such pleasures are fleeting when we consider the finite hours, minutes, and seconds we have to live, that our memories, our obituaries, our legacies, our very souls will have nothing to gain from such pursuits. Let’s not cancel the purpose of the holiday with such exploits.

I bid you all a contemplative, sober, and safe Halloween, and hope we all can responsibly wrestle with the remembrance of death.