This week, believed by some to be the time the veil between earth and the underworld is breached, draws an unlikely mix of celebrants around the world. Séance-saturated wiccans, kite-flying Mayans, purgatory-praying intercessors, and ruddy- cheeked candy collectors, whether intentional or not, all celebrate this fascination with death, dead, and darkness.
For some it is a time to ward off evil spirits, for others, a favorable time to commune with the Lord of Darkness, and for some, a time to communicate with their departed.
While we were in Guatemala, our language school arranged a field trip to Santiago Sacatepequez, a town famous for its Barrilete, Kite Festival. This festival coincides with All Saints Day (because an eight-century pope aligned it so).
For the first and last time while in Guatemala, I boarded the bus (think rattley, recycled, turquoise school bus) which although it did get stuck in off the shoulder mud, delivered us safely to the cemetery where we joined hundreds of other people of every color and hue milling around graves sites; some setting up their picnics on the stones.
All were gathered to watch teams try to launch their huge (some up to fifty-feet in diameter) tissue paper kites bearing prayers and messages for the departed.
According to Damian Choxin Jolon of the Santiago Association for Cultural Development, “these kites were created by Mayas to ward off bad spirits on All Saints Day, the day in which the deceased were allowed to visit the human world. Not wanting the bad spirits to return to the earth, the kites were created to make noise to scare them off, and also to carry messages to heaven on behalf of those in purgatory. (This last custom reflects the syncretism that is still strong in the area between Maya religious beliefs and Catholic customs.)”
It was all great fun, although I noted the irony of honoring the dead while trampling their gravesites. We, as I suspect most of the participants, simply enjoyed the brilliance and beauty of the festivity, and didn’t really consider the meaning.
But therein lies the danger, even here in our American culture.
The more we lose sight of a Christ-centered worldview and the edges of our Christianity mix with the colors of current culture, like a flower in a water painting, the lines of definition will blur together in a formless pastel of impression.
While thinking about this, I wondered if the influence of Halloween and all things related was celebrated in Israel or if it were mainly a pagan/Christian(?) syncretism. I’m not going to travel along that idea here, but this linked article, which originally appeared in the Toronto Jewish Tribune, lends a lovely perspective on the matter.
More than a warning against something, I mean to issue a call for something—for knowing what God says about living, about truth, and especially during this week, about life after death.
I don’t know of the veil between the earth and the underworld, but I do know of the veil that was between heaven and earth. The veil that was torn in two from top to bottom. The veil through which I can enter because of the blood of the Lamb.
And though I may appreciate the beauty of a high-flying kite, I don’t have to hope in messages tied to its tail, for I know my messages go straight to the throne of God.