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Rev. Joey N. Welsh: Of Spooks and Saints

ANOTHER ANGLE, the occasional musings of a Kentucky pastor
This essay, Of Spooks and Saints appeared in the Munfordville, KY, Hart County Herald, on 30 October 2005 reprinted with author permission
The next previous essay, Statue of Liberty

By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh

Halloween has never been one of my favorite times of the year. I have often thought that the store decorations featuring spooks, goblins, and candy, all coming to a finale at the end of October, robbed a lot of the energy from my favorite fall occasion a few scant weeks later, Thanksgiving Day. I have also wondered if the decor of the season sometimes encourages very small children to have unnecessary fears. I do admit that my childhood experiences with Halloween were fun, and I have nothing but happy memories of parties at school and trick-or-treating.

Despite my conflicting emotions, I have never felt that Halloween was a threat to children or any kind of satanic plot to entrap them. I think people who fret over those issues are too gloomy to begin with and have too much time on their hands, time they ought to use to accomplish some positive good. Noted in historic and religious context, though, Halloween does give us some food for thought that far exceeds the value of the day's candy and junk food.

Consider the very name of the day. Hallow is a word rooted in Old English referring to people or things that are sacred or holy. Een is a shorthand reference to evening. Halloween, or "evening of holy persons," is the night before the solemn observance of November 1, All Saints' Day. That day is noted by many Christians as a time of remembrance and thanksgiving for people who have lived and died in the faith.

In its festive spirit, the revelry of Halloween is similar to the jollity of Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday), the day before the solemnity of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Neither Mardi Gras nor Halloween is a particularly religious time or a necessary faith observance, but both of them are fun mile markers preceding serious days of reflection.

Dating back over 1000 years, All Saints Day on November 1 was originally set aside, or hallowed, to give thanks in memory of early church folk who were persecuted and martyred in the beginning days of Christianity, especially those individually named as saints in church tradition. The next day, November 2, All Souls Day, was to be the day of remembrance for the faithful people who came thereafter, even those not remembered in tradition by name.

There's an old preacher's story about a child who had been on a trip to Europe with his family. Along the way he had seen a lot of cathedral windows portraying a lot of saints. When asked for his definition of a saint, he replied simply, "Those are the people that the light shines through." There is truth in that child's words: saints are those dear people who shine with the light of God.

Some aspects of the original All Saints/All Souls traditions have been altered over the centuries, but the beginning of November remains a time of thanks for those departed folk who have made us and our faith possible. Many churches hold their observance on the first Sunday of the month; for them All Saints Sunday on November [7, 2010] will be a special day of remembering and thanksgiving.

In 1929, a 31 year-old British mom named Lesbia Scott was trying to explain the concept of All Saints to her young children. Her explanation became a poem, I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, that has been set to music and is sung by many English speaking Christians in our own day. Mrs. Scott wanted her children to be thankful for the people of the ages. Even more, she wanted them to notice the loyal believers yet alive around them and to be inspired to lead that same kind of authentic, faithful life.

Years later, Mrs. Scott allowed the quaint language of her children's text to be updated in some church hymnals (not many people travel by train or observe afternoon tea anymore), but I prefer her original words. Mrs. Scott, who died in 1986, has left a message for all of us: let's be grateful for those departed souls who have brought us here to this day and time. Further, let's note the people around us today through whom the light and love of God still shine. And, finally, let's try to be the kind of people who radiate that same energetic light.

In short, let's not get hung up on the shallow silliness of Halloween. Instead, let's sing a song of the saints of God, be thankful for those people and try live as one of them. In the words of Lesbia Scott:
I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor,
And one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God -- and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right, for Jesus' sake,
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier,
And one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
And there's not any reason -- no, not the least,
Why I shouldn't be one too.

They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school,
Or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.

-Lesbia Scott (1898-1986)

This story was posted on 2010-10-31 01:21:42
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