Monday, October 28, 2013

The Holy Ghost on the Eve of Halloween

On Thursday, we will celebrate another Halloween. Children are no doubt hard at work already making plans to accrue as much candy as humanly possible. When I was that age, all the boys in the neighborhood planned for this holiday like the Allied forces prior to the amphibious assault upon Normandy. Sugary treats and childhood fantasies are only one aspect of a surprisingly reverent holiday. Its peculiar nature calls for further analysis.

Growing up, I was raised to believe in the existence of the Trinity. Though it was never properly explained to me, I went through the motions, believing that enough repetition in ritual would lead to the insight I was seeking. The Methodist church in which I came of age reinforced this notion by the singing of the Doxology, every Sunday. I still hear the big, booming, resonant organ. At times it nearly drowned out the parishioners doing their best to sing along with the musical accompaniment.
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Quakers place particular emphasis upon the Holy Spirit, or its shorthand form, "Spirit." Vocal ministry during Meeting for Worship is supposed to be Spirit-led. Corporately and individually, we are all to to use Spirit as our guide in every decision. The concept of the Holy Ghost, however, is a matter I have been contemplating for a long time. Ghosts on television programs and movies are most often harbingers of bad news. On Halloween, ghosts are people wearing white sheets, most of their features concealed by fabric and face paint.

I return to the notion of Holy Ghost. It depends, I suppose, on how one defines the concept. If by "ghost" we mean a Divine presence that exists on a plane beyond rational analysis, that is one thing. The word "specter" or "apparition" connotes, in the minds of many, goblins, evil forces, and witchcraft. Some Evangelical Christian families in my hometown refused to celebrate Halloween, believing it to be little more than a blasphemous pagan holiday.

A Puritanical strain informs many religions and Christian denominations. If you root around long enough in anyone's religious history, there are always archaic aspects long since renounced. For us, a Quaker tradition exists of not using pagan names for days of the week and months of the year. Or, to put it another way, Sunday is First Day. October is Tenth Month. The more theologically conservative branches of Quakerism continue to keep that tradition up and running. The more liberal branches have largely discarded it.

Perhaps our definition of Holy Ghost is due for an upgrade. I think that for some who are made visibly uncomfortable by too much Christian terminology, saying "Spirit" instead of "Holy Spirit" minimizes God-talk. Even as someone who is entirely okay with sounding and seeming religious, the term "Holy Ghost" is both archaic and easily misunderstood. But it need not be.

From my own research, I've learned that Holy Ghost comes from the Old English gast, which means “spirit." It seems that the word's origins were neither pejorative, nor scary. Instead, it was meant to connote something very powerful and otherworldly. The Gospel of John, an influential book to Early Friends, reveals the Scriptural origins of the concept.
But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative--that is, the Holy Spirit--he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you, "I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.
The Holy Ghost is referred to as a comforter in numerous instances within the Bible. In accordance with Christian teachings, Jesus did not depart this Earth leaving us alone and defenseless. The still, small voice of God remains. Locating the Holy Ghost or Spirit within oneself is the foremost challenge for all who seek it. I have found in my own experience that the first step is the hardest, and that subsequent steps are much more manageable. Spiritual maturation is much the same as maturation in one's daily life and dealings.

In the meantime, does it change our comprehension of Halloween to view the supernatural as reverent, rather than ghoulish? We seem to have conceded that macabre and sinister, even with tongue firmly planted in cheek, are the only forms Ghost can take. If we instead saw the forces that we parody as holy, rather than a huge joke, or an excuse to experience fear in a controlled environment, would that give us an understanding beyond the superficial? There's no reason we shouldn't take the opportunity to have fun, but God is everywhere, even where some would deny him his rightful place.

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