Remembering November’s New Normal

Interesting–and rather expected–that the trappings of Hallowe’en (October 31st) are flapping in the breezes of our souls and streets so soon–and so adamantly. In some yards there are so many gossamer ghosts, skeletons, dinosaurs, bloody corpses and horror-carved pumpkins that there is no room left for even a bit of the ordinary daily grass of thanksgiving.

Theme: We can praise the horrors–but may not, as easily, recognize the gifts.

The streets around Wanda Road tend to be amazing in displaying these liturgical paeons to death.

It struck me: If you ever tried to put up some small shrine to the saints (whose collective feast day is  Nov. 1) saying YES to life, the day that is the very context, in our long western religious tradition, for Oct. 31sti itself–hallowed evening (Hallowe’en)– you would be accused of pushing religion on people.

Not so with celebrating the release of the demons! The mediaeval dance of death, and our precious contemporary ‘fear’, can seem to be all we have right now in our society– given Trump and more widespread confusions.

Such a readiness to acknowledge the demons in our lives and our society!  Such an unfamiliarity with truly celebrating ‘thanksgiving.’

But, let’s be fair! How can a pandemic NOT bring out a fear that is re-awakened by fresh recurrences and continuing confusions and failures. Noticeable, but too little fed and celebrated, are simple compassion, care and companionship: the ‘realities’ we bring to our ‘thanksgiving.’

It all erupted before…in 1348 very dramatically with the bubonic plague–which came back 3 to 4 times over the next 40 years. One-third to a half of Europe’s population was in graveyards—or worse. The plague (pandemic) eased off as the 1400s dawned.

The sun came out–kind of—both in the sky and in the people and Europe dove, with relief,  into the thing we call the Renaissance in celebration, but also in great forgetfulness, of what had been.

And the Church, along with the secular leaders, learned very few lessons–leading inevitably to new ways of  being separated, not united. And fresh hating– incarnated in new forms–including gun-powder and cannons.

Bergman’s Seventh Seal, a great film, said it well 60 years ago. So did World War One, almost 50 years before. And so did Auschwitz, the Japanese atrocities against the Chinese, and the nuclear bombs on Japan…our western atrocities—introducing a new potentially deadly plague.

The front yard displays in residential Toronto these days are hardly understatements! But they add nothing to hope, to joy, or to the kinder and deeper part of human living—celebrated in Thanksgiving..

My view–as you know, is that joy and hope and deep thanksgiving are not wrong, nor are they failing in ‘realism.’  Nor are they  forced, pollyanna ‘constructions.’ They are always truer (patently so, when they are allowed to take hold of us)   than any of the lies, the  violence and death and consumer banalities.

But these bursts (OK, …‘streaks’) of spiritual sunlight win out decisively and with unanimous recognition only occasionally on the social level, in this earthly passage.

And when they do–as in the joy you have with the grandchildren–now growing and finding their way in the world–they require that we firmly and fervently proclaim the goodness of it all; all of it grounded in a love and truthfulness that is beyond  understanding–and more real than ‘reality’, as we tend to name the tiresome world of  mere ‘facts.’

I don’t buy this ‘realism’ this ‘fake humility.’ It’s true in the obvious ways—but not truth enough to live by.

So, I insist: Let us not lie to the children—in our choices and actions, our even in our words! And let’s recognize that the biggest form of lying in the liberal west is the effective, social denial of the enduring truth that love and goodness and community are what make us and ground us;  and that they are stronger—and more ‘real’– than fear and death, or money and power.

And they are (and can be!) here and alive even now (not, mainly ,later), if we wish to choose them. Our society is very bewildered and lost when it is asked to face that ‘reverence’ before being, and that holiness in action in the world that grounds our ‘thanksgiving.’ But many want it, and love it.

Personally, (and following Pope Francis) I think it may be’ climate and global caring’– and lively thanksgiving put into practice in new/older  forms of community and across generations–that will be saving light for our societies.

Thanksgiving–arising out of a place in the heart and in relationships beyond despair, deeper than consumer comforts and banal declarations  or assumptions that ‘this is all there is’–that will show us a way into life-serving light.

Thanksgiving is, I believe, this light that can guide us, and guide us truly, beyond the allegedly innocent and premature laying out of Hallowe’en horrors on our lawns and egregiously hung up in our trees.

On that light/heavy note, I send you, beyond the-darkness, a burst of thanks to/for both of you, to  your kids now parents, and to their kids—inheriting the world that we pass on to them.  Sing praise!

May we find our way to a faith and hope that comes from life– and gives life;  and never sells out on being ‘real’ or on claiming that title. A way of living/being that affirms and asserts without ceasing, that Reality is always more than it seems.

Much more… But it really needs our help,  every day, for it to appear, take form and  pitch its tent among us—and perhaps thereby be believable for others. Bypassing Thanksgiving and rushing into Hallowe’en leaves our souls behind. That doesn’t help.

Jack Costello, SJ, is Director of the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Services.

  • Peter bisson
    Posted at 09:35h, 14 October Reply

    Thank you Jack!

  • Charles Pottie
    Posted at 09:49h, 14 October Reply

    Jack, glad you offered your reflection for IgNation readers. It’s too good to be for only a few. thanks.

  • Robert Czerny
    Posted at 09:50h, 14 October Reply

    Thank you for this profound, timely reflection; sweeping too, from 1348 to the Hallowe’en décor on the lawns around you. If not ‘tutti’, it would be great if very many ‘fratelli’ and ‘sorori’ too would read it and take it to heart.

  • Sharon Walters
    Posted at 10:02h, 14 October Reply

    A beautiful reminder! Thank you!

  • John Montague
    Posted at 10:25h, 14 October Reply

    Death was revealed forcefully to me during the AIDS pandemic from 1982-1995. Despite Covid’s restrictions, fear, and consequences on many levels, I do not find this current pandemic as difficult to put up with. Probably because so many of my friends died in the eighties and nineties.

    Halloween for me is the anniversary of my spiritual director John Veltri’s funeral in 2008. Because of his comic sense of humour, some of us thought Hallowe’en was a fitting day for his requiem. I give thanks for him and everyone who has revealed the meaning of the Paschal Mystery.

  • Eric Jensen
    Posted at 14:11h, 14 October Reply

    Thank you, Jack! Growing up in Montreal in the 1940s, I recall the French-speaking kids went about on Hallowe’en not trick-of-treating but dressed as beggars and pleading, “Charité pour les pauvres,” a Christian and cultural accommodation of what was otherwise looked upon as foreign.

  • Eric Jensen
    Posted at 14:12h, 14 October Reply

    Thank you, Jack! Growing up in Montreal in the 1940s, I recall the French-speaking kids went about not trick-or-treating but dressed as beggars and pleading “Charité pour les pauvres,” a Christian and cultural accommodation.

  • Grace Colella
    Posted at 15:06h, 14 October Reply

    Thank you Jack for giving us something good to think about during these difficult times.
    Keep well!

  • Connie Shaw
    Posted at 17:21h, 14 October Reply

    Thank you Jack for a meaningful reflection and John M for your response. I too was involved in the HIV/AIDS Pandemic, in friendship and in Ministry. Even though it was difficult with many deaths, I found life and love in the HIV/AIDS community. Thanksgiving, Halloween, Remembrance Day and Christmas are separate occasions but all overlap. All are about life and light (or its absence) Christmas brings the ultimate light.
    What a season to reflect and yes celebrate life and compassion.

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