All Halloween! Saint Time!

Besides showing off Pikes Peak, the city of Manitou Springs, Colorado, has some quirky attractions to draw in tourists. One is the Emma Crawford coffin race/festival, which includes a Halloween parade. For the race, about 50 teams–four pallbearers each–push coffins on wheels that carry ghostly Emmas.

Halloween in Manitou Springs, four bloody nurses push a coffin with Emma inside
2014 Emma Watson Coffin Racers (courtesy of manitousprings.org

The real Emma Crawford, a spiritualist, died in 1891 in Manitou Springs, while unsuccessfully seeking a cure for tuberculosis. Her heartbroken fiancé kept a promise and buried Emma atop Red Mountain. Unfortunately in 1912, the railroad decided to build an incline to the mountain top.

head shot of Emma Crawford, photo from the Pikes Peak Library District
Emma Crawford–photo from the Pikes Peak Library District and used with permission.

Emma’s remains were reburied on the slope. No RIP for her, however. Harsh weather conditions and rain resulted in Emma’s remains tumbling into a canyon. Two boys found her name plate, the casket’s silver handles and bones. The city reburied the remains in a local cemetery. Some people say her ghost haunts Red Mountain.

Coffin races got me thinking about Halloween, which derives from Allhallowtide (1471) and means Saint or Holy Time. I rummaged the internet and discovered the Christian tradition to remember the dead has lots of cultural tentacles. Please don’t get stickier than a caramel apple if I’m off on details, but here is some “Triduum” trivia.

All Saints Day on Sunday, Nov. 1, in the Roman Catholic calendar, honors those saints who are in heaven. According to Catholic Education.Org, “It was formally started by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Parthenon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs on May 13 in 609 AD. Boniface IV also established All Souls’ Day, which followed All Saints. The choice of the day may have been intended to co-opt the pagan holiday “Feast of the Lamures,” a day which pagans used to placate the restless spirits of the dead. The holy day was eventually established on November 1 by Pope Gregory III in the mid-eighth century as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics.” The May 13 celebration faded.

All Souls Day, Nov. 2, is about the average dead soul. The Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory (a waiting place for the heaven-bound to become fully purified) allowed the living to help their dead through prayer. St. Odilo, the Abbot of Cluny (d. 1048), decreed that on Nov. 2 all his monasteries should offer special prayers for souls in Purgatory and the Office of the Dead should be sung. The Benedictines and Carthusians adopted that same devotion, and soon Nov. 2 became the Feast of All Souls for the entire Roman Catholic Church.

Now back to October 31, Halloween, the church’s starting point for All Hallows Time. What are the origins for dressing up in scary costumes and trick or treating?

Halloween's lit and carved Raccoon atop Jack'O'Lantern
Rac and Jack by LGB

In many European countries, like in Mexico with its Aztec- rooted Dia de los Muertos on Nov. 2 , pagan elements intermixed with the Christian recognition of the dead. A common belief was that the spirits of the departed were briefly allowed on earth to seek justice or revenge. Pre-Christian Celts called this holiday “Samhain.” Masks, costumes and bonfires were used to keep evil spirits at bay.

turnip Jack 'O Lantern
Don’t you think orange is more fashionable then turnip purple and grey?

Ireland developed a story for Hallows Eve about clever, despicable Jack. This man was so crafty he even tricked Satan into a deal that kept his soul out of hell. When nasty Jack died, St. Peter refused him entrance into heaven. The devil threw a piece of fire at the trickster, which he placed in a hollowed out turnip to light his way in the darkness. Soon, Ireland had lots of carved turnips. After the Irish came to the U.S. during the Potato Famine, they found pumpkins more suited for “Jack ‘O Lanterns.”

Our trick or treat custom may have come from the English and Irish, whose children would go “souling” or “guising” from house to house, collecting food for the All Saints Feast or to receive soul cakes by promising to pray for departed loved ones.

At Halloween, its 'll about the candy.
It’s all about the candy. (photo by CSB)

In the U.S., Halloween has been recognized sporadically for over a century with postcards and costume parties. The children’s trick or treat custom found momentum after World War II, when a nation fed up with rationing sugar was wide open to handing out sugary treats to kids.

Yes, it's all about the candy.
Yes, it’s all about the candy. (photo by CSB)

Here’s my opinion on All Hallow’s Tide. Because we are made in God’s image, I dislike the deformed disguises desecrating the human body. If we were facing an ebola crisis or another 911, I doubt Halloween would be celebrated this way. Most of us like to be frightened within a safety margin.

Suspended ghosts and vampires fly above a ranch-style home.
Suspended vampires “fly” above a ranch-style home.

Pretending that death has a festive macabre side seems to suspend the truth of extinction. Fortunately, the Light of the World shines in the darkness and can illuminate the most ravaged souls.

How do I feel about All Saints Day? Honestly, I’m shedding tears with those who weep. This Sunday I will pray for: 1) the families of the Coptic Egyptians beheaded by ISIS in February; 2) the Assyrian Christians,

Pastor Saeed Abedini (photo in public domain)
Pastor Saeed Abedini (photo in public domain)

who currently are being slaughtered; 3) the Syrian Christian refugees who cannot even get a sliver of the USA’s increased refugee quotas;  4) the thousands of believers in Nigeria, whose churches and other properties were destroyed this year; and 5) one Iranian American believer, Saeed Abedini, seemingly abandoned by our government, as he continues to be tortured in an Iranian prison. This sounds quite gloomy, but I know who has the final word and that gives me hope for all the saints, living and dead.

P.S. Reformation Day (October 31) commemorates Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, October 31, 1517. Now if you’ve read this far you definitely deserve some candy.

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My sources included Wikipedia, http://www.catholiceducation.org; http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-trick-or-treating; and World magazine’s article “A sign and a witness,”  by Mindy Belz, October 31, 2015.

 

 

 

Fasting on Praise Mountain

It was a gift to experience a 44-hour prayer fast recently on Praise Mountain in the Rockies. No, this isn’t a blog entry to make you feel guilty about not fasting. Trust me, I am a lowly white belt in the spiritual discipline. And some of you know that Jesus instructs us to fast in secret. So, why am I writing about it?A dirt road between yellow Aspens and green pine trees leads to Praise Mountain

The hope is that the photographs and slivers of my experience will open you up to the possibility of trying it–that is, if you haven’t already or if it has been a long time ago. Turn off your cell phone, TV, and other sound bombardiers. If possible, get alone somewhere from your usual environment. Even an empty church classroom or a parked car for a half a day can become a personal retreat. At least, just one time, make prayer under a liquid fast a priority in a busy life. Someone, who loves you very much, wants special time with you. Don’t be anxious or afraid. He meets you exactly where you are. Be patient with yourself. It might take time to settle down.

I had no agenda for my fast except the expectation that I would receive a wordThe brown sided cabin with a green tin roof has pine trees in the back an dirt and gravel in the front with a few withered plants.–one special insight.  I selected about 30 books to take to Praise Mountain, and they were one reason I felt tired unloading the car at 9000-feet altitude. The Esther Cabin was spacious and more than adequate. I made up a bed, put drinks in the refrigerator, and spread out a bibliophile’s tools on the table. Much of the time I used the Bible and other books. I read for pleasure and meditation. I wrote and prayed. I bounced between two comfy sofas and a Two delicate purple flowers stick up and out of a climb of dry grass.kitchen chair. Often, the tea kettle whistled. It was all good, but not soul-shaking.Against Autumns brown leaves and grass is a gone-to-seed flower, its white seeds still clustered in flower form.

There are 110 acres to explore at Praise Mountain, shared with llamas, horses, and deer. On my firstA small, yellow flower pops out among a pinwheel pattern of aqua green lichen walk in the late afternoon I was drawn to “look down, draw close.” Fall’s peak week had past, yet the effortless wonders of nature boggled the mind.

“Look down. Draw close.”

A piece of ground in shadow and light, revealing a circle of aqua-green lichen and below it a baby evergreen.

After a good sleep in a very quiet and dark room, I did a Bible study on the word “rock.” After all, Praise Mountain is rock. Then I took a walk to the chapel. Below is the sign in front of the building!A large boulder has gold letters on it that read "Jesus--The Solid Rock."

Inside the chapel was an old piano. I hadn’tThe first line in the sheet music, coffee stained, of "Let's Go Take This City." played for six years, but now was an hour of joyful racket, and even an original tune. Opening up a coffee-stained praise booklet I found Let’s Go Take This City. How coincidental to stumble upon this unfamiliar song just as my faith community had completed a weekend emphasis on city missions.

Near the chapel were prayer caves. Think Gethsemane and Desert Fathers. IMG_0469I wasn’t planning on going into one, especially after opening the door. Dark and rustic are words that come to mind. True confession: I used my iPhone’s flashlight to check out the corners. The candles drew me. I lit them, locked the door, and sat on a wooden bench. Here was my epiphany, which is too personal to share. It was powerful and so creatively given through the candle arrangement that I didn’t doubt it was God’s word to me.

“Look Inside. Light Candles. Sit Down.”

On a rock ledge in the dark cave are eight candles of various sizes--all are lit except the two red ones that have a small white candle between it.

Both nights I forced myself to go out into the darkness and view the stars. It was chilly, and I couldn’t shake the thought that some sneaky beast prowled the forest desiring a tasty city slicker. Yet, oh the beauty displayed in the Milky Way and a thousand other stars!

Sunshine circle beams through pine trees with a wooden fence in front

“Look up. Search wide.”

A pond reflects the gold Aspen and Evergreen trees around it. A few ducks can be seen in the distant water.

 

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No place is perfect. For me it was the flies. I killed quite a few with a swatter–retribution on the little demons for distracting tranquil moments. Here wasHeadline in big, black letters says: "How To Attract Flies." God’s joke on the subject. In the cabin were many Christian books, dvds, and magazines. On an end table I noticed several issues of Billy Graham’s Decision magazine. I didn’t even know it still existed! I randomly picked up the July issue and opened it to an article entitled “How To Attract Flies.” Yes, ha, ha. The article was a good study of 1 Peter 3:8: “…be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” Writer Skip Heitzig used Ben Franklin’s quote “you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar” to emphasize that a follower of Jesus should match the walk with the talk.

My final morning was a time of gratefulness and the business of breaking camp. I drove down Praise Mountain and out of the Rocky Mountains refreshed. Quickly back into life’s busyness, I filed away this fasting time as one more reminder of what should daily remain important.

A bright, yellow half-circle sun sinks behind the black forest line. Ponderosa pine branches, also black, frame photo on top.

 

 

Worst Grandmother of the Day!

Along Highway 24 is a coffee kiosk that sells smoothies. It is a mile from theAn orange and red, drive through coffee kiosk with black SUV pulled up to the window. elementary school, where this Grandma and a  two-year-old pick up the kindergartener and second grader.

The girls are starved after school, so what better place than a convenient drive-through for smoothies? But I should have been more observant. Soon I will become the day’s worst grandmother.

“Hi there! What would you like?” says the friendly barista at the window.

I am almost speechless. She is wearing white panties and a craft-project bra, displaying red, green, blue, and gold sequins. She is so poised. I am confused.

“Umm, what kind of smoothies do you have?” I try to act like I order smoothies with my grandchildren every day from a woman in underwear.

FullSizeRenderShe cheerfully recites the flavors. I turn to the girls with shocked eyes and flushed face. Their sheepish smiles tell me they are counting on Grandma for behavior cues. Casually, I take their orders and recite them back to our barista.

“No problem, “ she says, turning around to make the drinks– her buttocks exposed.

Oh my goodness, it’s a thong! Is this establishment even sanitary enough?

The thong is just too much (or too little). I turn to the girls, who wear big smiles. I want to laugh, but roll my eyes. We must keep it together.

The second grader asks, “Grandma, what’s the name of this place?”

I never thought to look before, but raising my head to the sign I see “EspreXsso” and the black silhouettes of women in bikinis. Inner groan.

FullSizeRender

The barista returns with one whipped cream, Strawberry-Bananna smoothie—just two more to go.

“What grade are you in, sweetie?” she asks, bending out the window revealing more cleavage. The kindergartener answers.

“Oh, my son is in kindergarten too. He’s attending the same school I did.” (This particular school is miles from her work place.)

I ask, “Is he as tired as the girls are–after going to school all day?”

“Oh yes, but I’m so glad he likes it.” She turns to finish our order.

I give her a big tip, but can’t resist asking, “Aren’t you cold?”

“Oh no, there’s a heater in here.”

As we drive away, I bluster, “Girls, Grandma should have never taken you there! I am sorry. I don’t think women should run around making smoothies in their underwear! And, I hope you never have to get a job like that!” (Okay, these weren’t words of sensitivity or wisdom, but that is what spilled out.)

“I liked her belly button jewel,” replies the five-year-old.

We make a bathroom stop at the library, where I have to squelch jokes about exposed panties. Then we go to the park.

The second grader asks, “Are you going to tell Mommy where you took us?”

“Of course I am!” I reply.

And later, it wasn’t easy, but I did.

Oh, if only these three little girls were asleep with grandma.
If only they had been asleep like this! (photo by BCB)