Traditionally a time of thin places and a softening of the veil between the living and the dead, Hallowe’en has changed into a festival of masks and mayhem. Only this year seems to have decided to bring the masks out early and with them, a great deal of fear.
During October, imitation killer clowns began appearing, even in tiny British suburbs. Those wanting to intimidate and control us, like miniature media moguls, were even on our street corners, brandishing knives and getting a kick out of terrifying us. These costumed fear mongers have been more prevalent in the USA of course, where Hallowe’en is celebrated in a big way, primarily with costumes and candy.
Christians have always tended to get our collective underwear in a bit of a twist about it, since at its worst it can seem like a glorification of all that is frightening and can lead people into a casual acquaintance with the occult. We are right to be wary, but we also need to keep our perspective balanced, knowing that this is not, nor was it ever, a celebration of evil. Every culture has some kind of day of the dead, and we ourselves recognise the communion of saints which contains both the living and those already in heaven which is celebrated on All Saints’ Day during the same “thin” time.
It is only recently that violence and fear have begun a heavy involvement. This year in particular, it feels like the masks that evil wears are cast to one side and that it is brazenly abroad. To have a presidential candidate able to speak hatred and sexism openly without losing a great deal of support, is a case in point. Donald Trump’s comments (past and present) about women are no political joke, but misogyny unafraid to remove any costume of pretended dignity it had previously worn. The hilarity of clowns no longer funny, and a blustering billionaire no longer only an absurdity. At the same time in Dakota, we witnessed those in uniform (the mask of the state) setting attack dogs and using tear gas on peaceful protestors, and saw sites sacred to indigenous peoples bulldozed and desecrated. The masks and the gloves, it seems, are off.
The ugly faces of predatory power, of patriarchy and capitalism have thrown off all pretence and shown themselves as nakedly aggressive. Why pretend to be civilised any longer, if on the one hand there is so much apathy that public opinion poses no threat, and if on the other the law has become so deeply ingrained in the values of the system that there is no way to lose? Add to this the massive support from the disenfranchised, baited and manipulated by the right wing press, and then greed and narcissism, the banks and the billionaires, can do whatever they damn well please.
At this time, we need to be reminded of a few truths. One is that evil only appears to show itself without masks when it is desperate. Often even the absence of masks is a cover up. For example, there appears to be a consensus on the internet that Mr. Trump is suffering from narcissism, and this makes him the king of the ultimate mask – self-confidence. Wearing the untruth of massive ego brings a false pride, which coupled with power and money, creates a façade of invulnerability for a person who possibly, deep down, believes themselves horribly unworthy. If the pundits are right, when the illusion falls apart, it will not be pretty. Perhaps with that in mind, we might pray for him and his angry supporters.
Another is that often, things that purport to be of God but are not, come in hissings and sidlings. All evil, whether subtle or blatant, tells lies about God’s character – especially his goodness and his reliability – and goes against Scripture. If we hold onto our certainty that the Living God is holy and wholly good, and know our Bible, we won’t fall for the falsehoods.
It’s true also that God does not wear masks. He sends messengers, signs and wonders, for sure, because his entirety is too awe-inspiring and magnificent for us to bear, and he speaks to us in a still, small voice. He chooses the lowly and the poor, and his presence brings a nerve-tingling soul-quake that is about supreme wonder and never despair or darkness.
Moses showed us that we can live nearly a century in knowing God, and still only be ready for a glimpse of the backside of his holiness. If we are spending a great deal of time with him, we may begin to shine, not with fake tan and whitened teeth, but with a radiance that inspires awe, as it did in those around Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai, his face aglow with God. No mask that, but a showing of God’s glorious intimacy, right there for all to see! God’s ways may sometimes be mysterious or secret, but only ever to protect us from the fullness of his majesty. Our God is always moving us towards truth, towards honesty, openness and vulnerability. He never speaks or asks us to speak falsehoods, and he is the enemy of giant egos everywhere.
And the last truth I want to mention is that evil never wins. Oh the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy in this world, we know that only too well! But every regime except God’s will end, and we are instructed to take heart that all is overcome, even as All Saints’ Day dawns into the darkness of Hallowe’en. Perfect love really does drive out fear, have no doubt.
Patriarchal systems have always lent themselves beautifully to the wearers of masks: for those who seek to manipulate by fear are given power and credence, and those who want to live with openness and vulnerability as their watchwords are shouted down and chased away, shamed and abused. Hallowe’en may be a time when veils are thin, but we must remember that the curtain which separated us from the Holy of Holies was torn in two by outrageous love over two thousand years ago, and the way to God is clear. We need no special day or time to draw near, no bulldozers to make the way, and no pretence of our own righteousness to proceed. The Kingdom of God, as Jesus was so fond of saying, is indeed close at hand.
Keren’s latest book, “Whale Song: Choosing Life with Jonah” will be out in November.