It is the run up to Halloween ; many high street stores are filled with fancy dress outfits and chocolates/ sweets of many kinds, our TV screens are showing adverts for late night horror viewing, and children and adults alike indulge in the exciting adrenaline rush of sanitised terror...
Ghosts and ghouls and skeletons are strung up as decorative items, and in a subtle way we are asked to consider the possibility of an after-life, providing the perfect backdrop to a question asked almost in passing; "Do you believe in the spirit world?"
I blinked and asked for the question to be repeated;
Do you believe in the spirit world?"
for the question was asked, but not in light of Halloween, the question came one sunny summer afternoon at a bowls tournament in a rural Cambridgeshire village.
The elderly gentleman was in earnest, he had accompanied his daughter to an appointment with a medium, and was both impressed and unsure about what he had witnessed. The medium had been able to recount details about the person whose presence was being sought including never before disclosed details of his death....My questioner had felt chilled by the experience, but his daughter was happy and felt much better and more settled after the appointment.
He waited for a reply.
My answer was of course yes, yes I do believe in the spirit world, and yes I do believe that it is possible for mediums to contact the deceased and to communicate with them.( the Bible cites the example of Saul and the medium of Endor).
Do such visits bring comfort to those who go? In my experiece ( from talking to people who have visited mediums) I have to say yes, often a level of comfort is found. I also know that just as we have touch the screen for healing evangelists there are charlatans amongst mediums.
So perhaps the big question is, is it right, and ultimately helpful? Now here I have many questions- for although I am a firm believer in life after death, I also believe that there is so much we do not know and cannot explain. I believe in angels and demons, in spiritual forces of good and evil, and I believe that in this life it is healthier- although often heartbreaking to let go and to move on assured of God's promises surrounding eternal life...
Who will receive eternal life? I do not know, but I suspect that many, many more than a narrow theology might have us believe. We could take up the debate along those lines, or we could exercise a creative pastoral approach by considering the possibility offered to us through a creative engagement with All Saints and All Souls Days. All Saints offers us a unique and rich source of stories, and All Souls could be a powerful pastoral gift.
For many grieving people the desire to hold their loved ones tightly is overwhelming, a belief in the afterlife is no longer scoffed at in this spiritual age. Consequently visits to mediums in search of comfort/ reassurance are on the rise.
So as Christians what can we offer to those who desperately need a connection with their loved ones? Perhaps we can and should make more of All Souls Day, following All Saints Day , All Souls offers us an opportunity to pray for the deceased, I am not advocating a belief in purgatory, rather the opportunity for acts of remembrance and a chance to talk to God about loved ones.
Whether or not one should pray for the dead is one of the great hot potatoes that divides Christians. Appalled by the abuse of indulgences in the Church of his day, Martin Luther rejected the concept of purgatory. Yet prayer for a loved one is, for the believer, a way of erasing any distance, even death. In prayer we stand in God's presence in the company of someone we love, even if that person has gone before us into death.
For some this tradition continues, I wonder if we in the 21st century might do well to offer support through a new and creative engagement with this tradition?
... a couple of final thoughts, if and whan you get a knock on the door and find an amazingly atired ghost or ghoul smiling up at you- please give them some sweets and return that smile... how about offering to bless that little ghoul?
In Hungary All Souls Day is celebrated in the local cemetry/ graveyard where prayers for the dead are offered- what does that have to say to our rather squeamish and totally unhealthy fear of death and reluctance to speak about the afterlife???
Picture- All Souls:
Aladar Korosfoi-Kriesch --1910