1. The witch
Happy Halloween #1
Anita Marra Rogers
I have to admit that I find witches a little disturbing. Yes, even cute, fresh faced witches like the one in this ornament. This discomfort comes from two places. First of all, I have had bad experiences with real witches (Yes, they do exist. No, they are not all good or just practicing "mind over matter." If you doubt that, take a look at the your local Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstore. They have a huge selection of spell books, and these books are by no means filled with kind ways to help others.) How and why I had the misfortune of encountering not just one but at least 5 different witches during the course of my life is a long story that I may tell another time. Or might not. I generally prefer not to think about them at all. But nevertheless, I remain extremely wary of this symbol, as a result of my experiences.
The second reason witches make me uncomfortable is more a theological one. In essence, the desire to uncover this type of secret, hidden and unholy knowledge is the exact same reason why Eve reached for the apple, way back "in the beginning." It is not only a desire for power (often over other people), but it is also a short cut to knowledge. The Old Testament, Jewish understanding of Wisdom is not so much about intellectual gifts, but is about experiential knowledge - i.e. understanding your lived experiences in the light of faith results in true Wisdom. But to understand your experiences, first you have to actually experience them. Then you have to work (through prayer, study and reflection) to understand them.
Eve and witches want to bypass both the bother of living through formative experiences (good or bad) as well as the effort of having to discipline yourself to learn. They want the fruit right now. Hence, a bite from an apple, or a ritual from a spell book, cuts out both. Of course, the fine print tells us that bypassing the path to true Wisdom results in disaster. Eve lost Paradise and had to carry the horrible burden and terrible sadness of one of her sons killing the other. Pretty awful for any mother. And I can also tell you that, at least of the 5 witches I have had the displeasure of encountering, they all had pretty sad lives, filled with bitterness, resentment and jealousy. As Eve discovered, seeking to be "like God" doesn't translate into being God, nor does it result in happiness. Rather, this path only leads to more chaos and despair. It makes you wonder about the actual fruits they are reaping.
2. THe ghost
Happy Halloween #2
Anita Marra Rogers
What a sweet little ghost! If you look inside the pumpkin, you can see this ghost is haunting an old fashioned house. No one has been here for a long while. The chairs behind the ghost are both covered in slipcovers. There are spider webs in the fireplace and an old-time candle holder on the mantel. It's quite sad, really. Is his presence making people stay away, because the house feels "creepy" for no good reason? Or is he hanging around, waiting for someone to notice and help him?
In the face of all the ghost-hunter type shows around these days, plus all the legends of guests from beyond the grave from all over the world, one has to be naive or just plain obstinate not to believe in ghosts.
Our Catholic faith plainly tells us that we go on after we die, and we pray for a happy, peaceful death in every Hail Mary. There's a reason for that. If people aren't ready to go, or get yanked out of this life too quickly, it makes sense that they don't necessarily know what to do on the other side.
Not just on Halloween, but every day, we are invited to pray for the dead. Not just so that they will be purified of anything holding them back from entering heaven, but also so that they can find their way there. So that in the words of Jesus, they will "become like angels," interceding, guiding and helping us. Let's not forget them!
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
3. the zombie
Happy Halloween #3
Anita Marra Rodgers
Looking at this ornament, one line of Scripture immediately jumps to mind: "Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2) It's fairly obvious what happens if you don't- you become like the rotting dead. Actually, what I noticed first in this ornament is that the zombie is in a graveyard. That is not where we normally see zombies. If you think about the plethora of zombie movies and books, they are not usually in a graveyard. They are usually seen wherever there are living people. One thing all zombies have in common is the need for living flesh, so, of course, they go where there are beating hearts. All in all, a terrifically depressing view of human nature. Shows like "The Walking Dead" clearly depict how there is no happiness, no peace, no joy anywhere. Life is one grueling battle after another, and despite the number of times you may stay alive, eventually you will lose. And even worse still, there is never any peace or victory - not even after death.
So this small line from St. Paul is especially comforting. Yes, there is a way to overcome being a "walking dead." And it's not even particularly difficult. All you have to do is make a small effort, repeated over time, to form your mind by filling it with life-giving sustenance. A little bit of studying, some time with Scripture, participation in the Sacraments, and a healthy dose of prayer is the antidote.
The zombie archetype is very loud and large today, and in my opinion is a collective call from several different points of Western society about our need to seriously look at the formation of our minds, which directly shape our souls. Artists often play a type of prophetic role, and the many artists who depict zombies today are clearly showing us a warning, even if that was not their intent.
Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
4. the vampire
Happy Halloween #4
Anita Mara Rodgers
This ornament portrays a small vampire rising from his coffin, pulling his iconic black cape around him, while gazing off into the distance with his red eyes. The pumpkin's grin matches the vampire's grin, with its big fang teeth.
Vampires have gotten a lot of good press lately. Far from being seen as the epitome of predators that lurk in the dark and the night, preying on the innocent and naive, vampires have come to be seen more as broody, misunderstood tragic heroes, who are constantly having to overcome their dark nature to do heroic deeds. Not the worst metaphor, really, even if more than a little far-fetched.
But one thing has always stood out in my mind, when it comes to vampires - their deep and driving thirst. I can't help but compare that to Jesus' words on the cross, when he said "I thirst." It's an odd dichotomy - two deep and pervasive, driving thirsts, and they are both, ultimately, about a thirst for souls. It's the intent that makes all the difference. The vampire's thirst will drive him to kill. Jesus' thirst drove him to be killed. And in both cases, there's plenty of blood of the innocent spilled.
Edward Hays makes an apt comment about vampires in his book In Pursuit of the Great White Rabbit. In this book, where, like most of his books, Hayes writes about mindfulness and seeking God (the Great White Rabbit) he compares "daily routines and legalisms" to vampires that "suck the life and joy out of our lives." He writes "how often do we make ourselves victims of compulsive duties, allowing them to tower over us and oppress due to lack of awareness." (I'm paraphrasing here.)
Hays goes on to say that disciples of Christ are called to mindfulness, to the Scriptural call of "Be Awake!"He writes "If we are to fully enjoy life, we can't sleepwalk our way through it. If we are to delight in the Wedding Feast to which Christ invites us, we must remain awake and alert. We must come to see that goodness is hidden inside the most ordinary of everyday activities. Those who are awake and mindful find that they live inside a perpetual miracle." So despite their dark glamour, even vampires need to come into the light and be part of the sunlit world of wakefulness.
5. the mummy
Happy Halloween #5
Anita Marra Rodgers
A mummy is slowly leaving his sarcophagus in this 2017 Halloween ornament. Although the death rituals of several ancient cultures included mummification, this particular mummy is obviously Egyptian, due to the hieroglyphics painted on the walls behind.
And Halloween is such an appropriate time to consider mummies, especially when we remember the larger story of Egypt, the Israelites and the Exodus, the original journey from slavery to freedom. This ornament brings up an issue not often discussed - generational slavery. From the story of the Israelites, we know that just changing location doesn't result in a change of perspective, understanding, habits or heart. The mothers and fathers of the Israelites handed down the habits and behaviors of those who had been in captivity for hundreds of years. When they were presented with freedom, they didn't know what to do with it. Once life in the desert grew scary and unpredictable, they clung to their old habits and old gods. They melted their jewelry and erected a statue of Baal, one of the gods of Egypt they were supposed to have left behind.
And now here we are in 2017. Are we really any different? We may not intentionally be worshipping a golden calf, but in her book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols of Everyday Life, Elizabeth Scalia writes that we have been quick to erect new gods. We serve the God of Prosperity, not simplicity, and the God of My Plans (I will be Served) instead of God's Plan for Me (I will Serve). The God of Technology also frequently appears, interrupting the growth and development of normal relationships and conversations. Popular author Neil Gaiman details the same idea in his bestselling fictional book American Gods, now a series on STARZ. Gaiman adds that in addition to the new "American" gods, we are still carting around all the other "old" gods as well, even some from as far back as Egypt.
Halloween is the time of year when we are supposed to reflect on our own shadows, on what we are afraid of in the dark, and who we serve to keep those fears at bay. Only by unwrapping these truths can we truly experience new life in the resurrection, instead of just some type of reanimation.
6. the werewolf
Happy Halloween #6
Anita Marra Rodgers
Quick - what song comes to mind when you think of a "werewolf?" Michael Jackson's THRILLER!!! That iconic music video propelled MJ into the limelight, and became the standard background music for every Halloween gathering since.
A werewolf is a funny creature. It's half man, half wolf. It is forced into existence due to circumstances beyond its control, ie. a full moon. In most werewolf tales, the person who becomes a werewolf is also a victim. Once he turns into this monster, he is absolutely unable to access his rational mind. He becomes a killer completely out of control. In the morning, after the moon has set, there is typically plenty of remorse for the havoc and destruction wraught the night before. Yet, nevertheless, we all know that in another month that same man will transform and repeat those same actions. The mayhem is going to take place again in the future.
To me, werewolves have always represented the spirit of violence. Although we don't actually see a human transform literally into an animal, we have all seen humans become so overwhelmed by the spirit of violence that they act like savage wolves, bent on destoying and killing. This can range from domestic violence, to gang violence, to school shootings. Our times are tragically and woefully full of examples of werewolf killing sprees.
Although Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was meant to be a mostly lighthearted, goose-bump causing rocking song, it also revealed a deep truth about human nature. Put just about any of us in the right situation, for an extended period of time, and the werewolf will explode.
As I said above in the section about the Mummy, Halloween is the time for us to reflect on what keeps us from being saints. What circumstances force the werewolf out of you? When do you seek to destoy another's spirit, soul, reputation, opportunities or even body - regardless of the devastation or consequences it might cause?
"Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come."
7. the skeleton
Happy Halloween #7
Anita Marra Rodgers
The 2019 ornament features a skeleton out walking his dog, through a graveyard, no less. One can almost hear him whistling a tune as they walk along. This little skeleton does not seem at all bothered by the fact that he is - literally - nothing but walking bones.
We've all heard the expression "skeletons in the closet," referring to those little secrets that we have pushed into the back, dark corners of our memory and/or subconscious. We intend to take these secrets to the grave, just like this skeleton did.
And that is not necessarily a bad thing. I don't know that I would advocate for every single foible and folly to be exposed, especially if revealing these secrets would not heal or help but would instead, destroy and tear down. This gets into the realm where a good spiritual director is most helpful. However, this skeleton, as do those secret "skeletons in the closet," reminds us that nothing actually goes unseen. Even if, in prudence and wisdom, we do decide it is best to take some things to the grave, that doesn't mean we still don't need to confess them to someone. As Catholics, we are especially fortunate in that we know how to confess and who to confess to. We, the fortunate ones, have the Sacrament of Confession. When I am teaching children how to make their First Reconciliation, I remind them of two main things. First, when we sin, fragmentation immediately occurs in 3 places: with our relationship to God, with our relationship to others and within ourselves. All 3 areas experience brokenness. Secondly, there are 3 places where we can sin: in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions (in what we do OR fail to do). These failures impact us on the inside and they also impact the world we live in. So, simply ignoring them is really not our best option.
Children often ask "But why do I have to confess to priest? Can't I just tell God I'm sorry?" The answer is "Of course you can tell God you are sorry!" In fact, you are so serious about wanting to tell him you are sorry that you know you have to go and talk to his representative - the priest. The priest, through his office, acts as the person of Jesus. But the priest is also a member of the community in which you live, so when you confess to a priest, you are also saying "I'm Sorry!" to your community. Finally, when you go and tell someone what you did, and that you are sorry you did it, you are healed inside. You have taken responsibility. You are not hiding from something you did or making excuses to justify it. Admitting a failure is actually healing. So, through this sacrament, we can receive healing in all 3 areas of fragmentation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation helps us to form the habit of watching our thoughts, shepherding our mouths and being more aware and attentive of our actions. It is where we draw from the deep well of God's mercy, and experince healing, forgiveness and reconciliation (hence the name). So, although the skeleton in this ornament seems unaffected by his state, do any of us really long for an extended stay in the graveyards of earth in the after life? Not likely. This ornament, then, reminds us to shake out those skeletons and seek healing instead of being content with bones.
8. the frankenstein monster
Happy Halloween #8
Anita Marra Rodgers
Although this Halloween symbol is usually referred to as "Frankenstein," its real name is "the monster." At least, that's how Dr. Frankenstein referred to his creation in the classic book Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. Written by Mary Shelley and published in 1818, this famous tale tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young, ambitious doctor who conducts experiments in electricity on decaying tissue for the purpose of reanimation. As we all know, Dr. Frankenstein is successful in patching together a human on the lab table, comprised of body parts from several different dead people, and he also successfully reanimates this being. However, his joy in the success of his experiment is very short lived. He gazes upon his new creation with a look of horror and abhorence, an obvious and marked change from the look of love and joy which God bestows upon Adam in the Garden of Eden. Far from looking upon his creation and pronouncing it "very good," Dr. Frankenstein desparately wishes he had not "done the thing," and he seeks to rid himself of it. Thus begin years of threats, suffering and pain - not just to Dr. Frankenstein but also to his family.
Dr. Frankenstein discovers for himself this great secret: the creator always puts him or herself into their creation. The life of the creation is drawn from the life of the creator. Unfortunately for Dr. Frankenstein, he finds that he is just not that great, and so, neither is his creation. In contrast, God can look upon everything he creates and proclaim it "good" and "very good." Why? Because God himself is the source of good. Everything he thinks, touches or creates will draw from his own energy and copy it. No matter how often or even the type of creation, whatever God creates will be good.
It is important for us to realize, then, what it means to say we are "made in his image." This certainly means that we, like God, have the ability to create. This creative ability is seen in marriage, with the abilty to create new people, but it is also seen in other aspects as well. For example, if a person creates a company, that company will by default receive the spirit of its founder. So, if the founder is generous and God-fearing, seeking to build the Kingdom of God, those who work for him or her will experience an environment of respect and collaboration. The office environment will reflect the principles and spirit of the founder. When that company grows, the bottom line will not be the only driving decision. Things like safe-working conditions and environmental considerations will also be taken into account. Granted, since no one is perfect, it is unrealistic to expect any office to be perfect, either. That being said, we've all experienced the difference of spirit in different places.
In the Romantic era, when Frankenstein was published, the Greek god Prometheus had become a symbol of the solitary genius who sought to advance the human race by his own efforts, especially in the field of science. However, like the original story of Prometheus, the modern Prometheus dares to go beyond what he should and ends in tragedy. So who, then, is the real monster in Frankenstein? The reanimated corpse or the man who seeks to take the place of God? The words of Dr. Ian Malcolm, a scientist in the movie Jurassic Park, are appropriate here: "Just because we CAN do something, doesn't mean we SHOULD."
During the month of October, let's take an honest inventory of our lives and ask ourselves "What are we creating?"