Stand at the Crossroads
Did you know that before there was a “Halloween” there was Samhain (pronounced Sow-an)? Samhain was a time on the Pagan calendar when, it was believed, the dead could draw near to the living. Our dressing up in scary costumes has its origin in the Samhain practice of trying to “spook the spooks,” to scare away the ghosts that might be tempted to “cross over” and cause mischief or harm.
The institutional church co-opted this Pagan observance and replace it with its own, All Saints Day, a feast day to remember all the dear departed, but especially the saintly dear departed, a time to look back and give thanks for the ones who went before us.
In the Bible, Jeremiah tells us to “stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16) Today in the church on All Saints Day we might remember the roads built by the peoples of our past, paths of faith and practice that help us live more nearly with God; paths which led to the building of gorgeous sacred spaces in which to worship, and in Canada, at least, gave us tools for compassionate living such unemployment insurance, welfare, socialized medicine.
It’s likely, however, that our gratitude is also tinged by grumbling. The church(es) founded by the first saints, the Apostles, have had a hand in oppression and institutionalized abuse through much of their history. Our church buildings suck time, energy and money away from outreach and justice. Our social safety net has gotten expensive and cumbersome without serving the needs of those it was designed to protect.
“Ask for the ancient paths where the GOOD way lies,” said the prophet. We should be constantly wondering over which ancient paths are worth keeping and which need to be wiped off the map. Remembering the gifts of the people before us without turning a blind eye to the harm they may have caused allows us to also maintain a certain humility about our own practices of life and faith today.
Funny thing. “Crossroads” in the ancient world were also considered everyday “thin places” where the mystical and the mundane collided. Maybe Jeremiah knew that those were good places to listen humbly for the voices of the past calling us back to the good they had in mind for us, at the same time as hearing their pleas to avoid the mistakes they made.
Take some time today to stop and give thanks for the gifts from the past that have brought you to where you are today, to extend forgiveness when the past has been more of a burden than a gift, and to think ahead to the world you’d like to pass onto your own kids, grandkids, great-grandkids etc.
Stand at the crossroads and wonder, and let God show you the good way.
And for goodness’ sakes, eat a bunch of candy, dress up in something silly, and scare a Trick or Treater or two at your door! No one ever said the “good” way had to be the boring way.