October is a liminal time between summer heat and winter cold, between rain and snow, between one year transitioning to the next, and for some of us from summer sports to winter sports. I love October. Sweaters come down from the attic. The skies get waxed and edged. Apple Cider and pumpkins abound. Corn and squash are on most menus! There is so much to celebrate!
While all of that is good and well, for clergy it is a particularly exciting month. Best of all for ministers, for one month of the year, we aren’t the only ones willing to talk about death, transitions, and bereavement! For this one month, conversations about death and dying are all around us in nature, in life, and even (while often distorted) in popular culture.
While All Saints or Totenfest in early November is a formal Christian Holiday of recognizing our departed loved ones, Halloween is traditionally not part of the liturgical year. This is largely for good reason, but perhaps there is still something we can learn from it. While I love October, I mostly just hold my breath for Halloween to be over. I hate the constant gore, violence, and especially the candy corn in the supermarket and on TV. Additionally, I have to confess to never having sat through an entire horror movie in my life with my eyes open or without covering my ears. I am that person who won’t sleep well for weeks after.
What I like about Halloween, however, is that it is the one time of the year, while exaggerated, when most Americans of all religions and no religion think collectively about death and life. It is a time when we all have the opportunity to claim, in contrast to all of the gore and violence, how we want to live life and to be remembered.
October is a beautiful, liminal month of the changing of the seasons, falling of summer leaves, and the coming of winter winds. It is also a time when we have the chance, whether we want to or not, to reflect on the meaning of our lives. What will be left when we are gone? How will we be remembered? Do I have a living will? How am I honoring my ancestors and dearly departed? When is the last time I visited or tended my grandfather’s grave? Tending graves or sacred places of memory is a deeply important and forgotten Christian ritual that I advocate reclaiming.
While there is much gore, violence, and bad food to ignore (especially candy corn) in October and in Halloween, there is also the chance to claim the good parts of this cultural holiday. As we look for Halloween costumes and decorations, let us also reflect on what costumes we are already wearing in our daily lives. As we share candy and apple cider with friends and strangers, may we also think of ways to feed the world with nutrition (not just sugar) and hope throughout the year. Most of all, while we are inundated with the cultural fear of death—may we also claim our Christian hope that there is yet more beauty to come.
Just Jake (or The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph)
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.
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