roamin' catholic: karin rosner

Posts Tagged ‘Christian

ImageWhat did you do last night? Over amazingly perfect cheeseburgers, we talked about: St. Francis, Franciscans, social justice in and through Christ: ending homelessness and hunger, why we voted for Obama in the first place, cancer survivor health insurance issues, why universal healthcare is important even if we like the Government not getting involved in our lives, what a truly Christian universal healthcare plan might look like, abortion, relegating “marriage” to the churches but “civil partnerships” to the state, respect at work, jobs that kill us, jobs that save our sanity, good bosses, the old boys’ club everywhere… and then I went home, watched the end of the presidential debate, took an antacid and went to bed.

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I’ve been having trouble breathing over the last couple of days. I had a tumble on Sunday’s ice, and managed to pull a muscle in my diaphragm. Deep breathing hurts, yawning is excruciatingly painful, and coughing makes me want to scream, but screaming and singing are really impossible right now without the ability to really take in the oxygen those activities need. I’m slowed down, taking escalators and elevators instead of climbing the stairs. My long walks are on hiatus. As I quickly type this entry, I’m riding the local bus instead of walking uphill to the Subway station. I am slowing down every move I make, acutely aware of every breath. At least my asthma is behaving itself: no wheezing, only comical pain. It is getting better; I am not going to die from this.

It’s All Souls’ Day and as I frustratedly try to breathe like a normal living human being, part of my day will involve dealing with living souls with severely damaged lungs. I help answer the phone lines that you see advertised on TV: “Have you been diagnosed with Mesothelioma or Asbestos-related Lung Cancer? Call our law firm now…” Some of these souls are still with us; some have passed one and their loved ones are calling in. Survivors have had their breath knocked out of them, their souls are often crumpled and gasping for air, seeking comfort from anywhere. One person dear to me is in the beginning of the Battle for the Breath that’s part of Mesothelioma. He came home from the hospital yesterday after a little bit of surgery and exploration.

All Souls’ Day asks some important theological questions that the triumphant strains of All Saints’ Day can push aside. Halloween pokes fun of death and the fear of our demise, but All Souls’ takes our lives and our final demise very seriously. Many Christians have completely done away with the Roman Catholic teaching about Purgatory (necessary punishment for sins that eventually ends in a welcome fully into God’s presence in heaven: human souls are purged and cleansed of faults and made perfect to enter into the Perfect ) but the question about what happens to us when we die lingers around our collective religious imagination. The simplest idea is that our bodies fall asleep in the created world and our souls wake up in Heaven and see Jesus. We instantly attain Heaven because his death on the cross accomplished what teachings on Purgatory suggest – Jesus paid it all, took all of the punishment for all of our sins upon himself. Some Christians teach that we are asleep in Christ until we rise again with him in his glorious return: what happens to each one of us between the moment of physical death and the last trumpet blast on the Universe’s historical timeline is a mystery. When my mother died, my friend and pastor offered up an evangelical version of Purgatory: those who fall asleep in Christ wake up to discover gradually more and more about who God is, moving from glory into glory.

My great grandmother died in the first decade of the twentieth century, when my grandmother was very young. Great-Grandmother Maria was a daily mass goer in the Old Country. She apparently was done-in by an asthma attack in the snow on her way to morning Mass. My grandmother’s story about this haunts me, having those moments myself where I’m furiously digging through my purse for my rescue inhaler when my chest feels tight. I doubt my devout Catholic ancestors in Slovenia and Austria would ever have heard of the Biblical Hebrew term in the Old Testament for the Breath of God, “Ruach Elohim”. My GGM was devout for a reason besides Catholic guilt. It’s the Spirit of God, breathing in us that draws us to Christ by any means necessary. It’s God’s breath that frees us from death, keeping our spiritual lungs and hearts breathing and working in a world that can crush our chests and break our hearts. Christ’s promised spirit of himself, The Holy Spirit, is our life line, our comfort and our CPR when our heartbeats misfire. In our living in Christ, he comforts us. In our dying he leads us to himself, however long it takes, however it happens. We live with the mystery of death, and the Holy Spirit breathes into us the inspired gift of Faith that Jesus has it all covered. We’ve been given the gift of eternal life and we do not need to be afraid. We’ll get to the only “there” that matters, and worship God in glory with all of the saints who have gone on before us, including my maternal ancestors. All Souls’ Day is time to remember the Comforter who breathes into us and helps us recall this promise.

Author’s note: the first part of this overly- long musing on my favorite holiday and why I think that boycotting it is a Satanic plot against Christendom can be found here.

Dealing with death is a part of life. There is not one person, religious or atheist, who can escape the cold, hard facts that our hearts are going to stop beating one day, and our brains will stop a short time later, and we will know that we are dying. Universally, cultures do something to take a long hard look at where we all will end up. The recently-late Steve Jobs, whose ghost probably will be a popular Halloween costume this year, said this about the secular, absolute truth in his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Marching across a historic Victorian cemetery in the misty October moonlight, I’m absolutely aware of the history and origins of the day. Samhain is a tricky Celtic festival that some say involves ritual banishing of the evil spirits that pass through the thin places, when the worlds of fairy and human were at their closest. I’m aware too, of the remembrances of the dead in the celebration of the Christian festivals of All Saints and All Souls. Elaborate folk-religious festivals like Mexico’s Day of the Dead have evolved from these older traditions.

The modern expression of Halloween, in the United States and increasingly around the globe, is cultural theater that remains rooted in religious folk tradition… and that’s a great thing. For all its big money and merchandizing, the holiday still belongs to the actors. Kids and grown-up kids play out the battles of good vs evil and life vs death through costumes, masks and play. You can be a ghost in your mom’s white bed sheets (so very retro-chic) or be a superhero as you choose your part in the drama for just one night of the year. I personally don’t understand the costume choices of the cute bunnies, princesses, and ballerinas (unless they are Rabbits of Death, Princess Dianas or Isadora Duncans showing up at my door), but positive costuming is a legitimate personal or parental choice.

Unfortunately, in cultures that have divorced any spiritual meaning from the day, the spin-offs from mainstream Halloween can fall under evil’s spell. In the US, Mischief Night on October 30 can be more frightening than the scary costumes hanging on the racks in the big box stores. The night’s vandalism and petty crime vex community leaders and keep the police working hard in many urban areas. Without a spiritual anchor, Halloween loses its ability to mock evil and instead, glorifies it. The satanic and evil are expressed through crime, mindlessly violent entertainment, and soft-core pornographic expression. While ritual crime is rare (and not perpetrated by the Wiccan teenager in your local high school or the modern vampire living down the street), Halloween tends to see some sort of occult-related crime reported somewhere.

Now, back to the Christian problem of dealing with Halloween…

In first part of my ramblings, I isolated two approaches to the problem of Halloween with a little bit of snarky humor, looking at human behavior and culture through Law and Grace. When sincere Christians experience confusion, they lose sight of how the two work together, and Christians are fed a malnourished spiritual diet of human judgment, superstition, works-righteousness and fear. We’re urged to “do” things or not do things in order to earn righteousness and grace, and become a good or better Christian. It’s tempting to isolate our Good Christian Selves into little holier-than-thou bubbles to remain pure. Being God’s Chosen becomes a job on the task list: the task is all up to us first; to be a follower of Christ is our decision and our choice, and then we tack on a prayer to the Holy Spirit to make us holy, Amen. When we inevitably fail to live up to the Christian culture’s rules of the moment, we are not Christian enough. We are judged by the imperfect understanding of human beings who think they know it all. This is the human side of the Law, and our experience as Christians on a journey from the Old Testament into the New tells us that the Law indeed exists and we are still under it. It not only effects us physically through death, it also kills us spiritually as an effect of sin through God’s application of Law (Judgement), but God did something dramatically different during one moment in history that changed the game.

The historic Christian faith tells us that God commuted our death sentence; changed our history through a tremendous mystery of the Atonement. Jesus Christ, the living word of God made human, was conceived, born, suffered and died a horrific, painful death on a cross, somehow taking our abuses against the Law into Death itself, rose from the grave and is coming again. The person of the Holy Spirit is God’s promise of comfort and the seal of the bond between us messed up human beings and God himself. We are covered by Jesus saving action – salvation and justification through blood and death.

Okay, maybe this was a 33 year-long moment in the history of the universe, but we are still living into God’s promise that death is over and done for; our sins are covered in the only righteousness that really exists- Christ’s, not through anything that we have done or can do, but only through what Jesus has done and is still doing. It’s all God’s job to save us, not ours, no matter how much we may think or experience that we are making a decision to do or be a model Christian. We surrender to God’s salvation. We cannot earn it. We cannot grab it or choose it. We think or experience that we grasp it, but we’re really yielding to Divine Love. That’s Grace.

It’s easy to fall into a Christian trap that gives in to the all-too human pull to put ourselves first before God. This kind of thinking sucks us into our own earnestness, wanting to please God. Even this essay is skirting painfully close to (if not completely into) Law because I’m critiquing a whole segment of Christian culture that I disagree with and judge as spiritually unhealthy. We can’t avoid Law. Thank God for Grace.

So, while Christians can certainly choose not to participate in Halloween for any number of reasons, condemning and rejecting participation in Halloween as an idolatrous pagan insult against God, completely misunderstands what Halloween is all about. You can’t celebrate light without at least acknowledging the shadow. Participation in Halloween does not need to mean exalting Satan and the Demonic, or even giving the enemy any power at all. A redeemed Halloween is not cut off from the celebration of Gods work for all of us, and neither are the people who re-enact play battles of Good vs. Evil  and mock Death while dressed up as an adorably cute  4 year old vampire. The victory over death is recalled through the traditional feast of All Saints, which all too many Christians have forgotten all about. Halloween and All Hallows go together as they dance across the calendar nearly opposite to Good Friday and Easter.

To rightfully reach Easter and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, Christians must pass through the horror of Good Friday. To reclaim Halloween from misunderstanding, you’ve got to understand the Hallow, which is my task for Part the Third.


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