"God made us in His image, each of us special and unique. Yet we struggle to live into that image, adopting unsustainable masks that, if we wear them too long, make it hard to breathe."
I think Halloween gets a bad rap. Some Christian families don’t participate because of the holiday’s pagan roots and/or the perceived satanic overtones. Some Jewish families don’t participate because of the holiday’s Christian roots. Some families worry excessively about safety and confine their children’s activities to sterilized trick’or’treating at the mall or in the church parking lot. Some adults have co-opted the holiday, using it as an excuse to wear over-sexualized costumes and drink pumpkin-flavored beer.
And yet, Halloween continues to play heavily in the minds and imaginations of our children. This year, our third grade Sunday school class asked if they could wear their costumes to church. I denied the request, given that the holiday doesn’t fall on a Sunday. Then, my 7th grade confirmation class asked if they could design and host a haunted house. Again, I denied them, given that a mere month would not be enough time to prepare. I can’t deny their fascination; I think, in many ways, Halloween is a holiday that kids need to have.
Certainly the costume is a big part of it. Costumes help children confront their deepest fears. Rather than surrendering to the monster, they become the monster, and fear is transformed. Costumes and pretend play, imagining oneself as another, all serve a critical function in a child’s self-development, as well as their ability to empathize with others.
Don’t we all, even as adults, sometimes pretend to be someone we are not? Sometimes it’s exhilarating, sometimes it’s exhausting. Think of the masks that we wear, the many ways we present ourselves to the world. So many of us wear a mask on a daily basis, not just in public, but even around those closest to us. We hide our true selves in a series of personas, costumes, and false faces.
Made in God's Image
As much as Halloween is a chance for children to explore different personas, it is also a time to remember that when we try to conceal the person God made us to be, our true self, it becomes very wearisome. God made us in His image, each of us special and unique. Yet we struggle to live into that image, adopting unsustainable masks that, if we wear them too long, make it hard to breathe.
What of the quintessential Halloween nighttime dash through darkened streets, seeking house after house, not knowing whether we will receive a sweet welcome or a scary rebuff? Don’t we as adults often stumble blindly through the dark nights of our own lives, forever hoping to find an open door, a warm light, and maybe something sweet?
In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor writes:
“I have learned things in the dark that I could not have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need the darkness as much as I need the light.”
Lisa Brown recently accepted a position as the Director of Digital Ministry with Membership Vision. Building on her work in Children’s Ministry and Communications at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, PA, she helps churches connect to people and to God in the digital space. An active member of Forma and Girl Scout leader, Lisa is passionate about enriching the spiritual lives of people. Her book “The Best Do-It-Yourself VBS Workbook Ever” was published in 2017.