Samhain (Halloween) the witches' new year is this weekend. At this time we remember and honor our beloved dead. Pagans say that the veil between the living and the dead is thinner now than any other time of the year. I don't know whether that is true or not and I'm not concerned. I don't need to be sure that it really exists to be able to experience what it means, the same way that I'm not sure if my father's presence still exists, but I feel it anyway.
I'm grateful for this time to pause and remember my father. It's one of a few times of the year that I intentionally hold some time for that. In my family, grieving is frowned upon, discouraged. "Dad is in Heaven with Jesus" is the common refrain. Presumably that's supposed to be enough, but it isn't. Celebrating Samhain with my pagan friends offers me something special, even without believing or experiencing everything that is taught about this holiday. That's a marked difference from the Christian faith of my youth.
Christianity is a religion of divine laws ordering everything from gravity to gender roles to how far is too far to death and grief. I'm long burnt out on all of it. I'm certain that my family wants me, their loved one, to be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven and to be Right with the Judge and to know the Comforter in this life. And it's unfortunately inevitable that they will have to leave me outside of Paradise, judged unfit, if I don't accept and participate in this invitation to believe, to subscribe to and abide by the religion's ordering of life. But I don't perceive or experience my life according to all those rules.
Today I am a lot more interested in experience, meaning, and relationships than I am in being right or righteous. I experience the material and relational. For example my body, the cinch and pull of my hips as I walk to the bus in the morning rain, the softness of the yoga mat under my fingertips, the weight and warmth of my son riding on my back. I find that I can still have a full, meaningful experience, and rich connections with people, even when I don't subscribe to all of the creeds of the particular spiritual path.
This may be one of the gifts of finding (choosing? accepting?) a spiritual path as an adult rather than a younger person. Lived experience has shown me what is important to me, what makes the world and my place in it make sense. I'm recognizing what methods of meaning-making convey meaning to me. The personal authority wrought of living grants me permission to accept and attempt the pieces that ring true and resonate with me. And I'm free to release and essentially reject the rest.
The judgey "should" voice in the back of my head is not ok with this. That voice says that I'm being selfish, self-centered, composing a buffet line spirituality that serves me, reflects me, reinforces me as is. And while that's possible, it doesn't have to be true. (Besides, I suspect that it's limiting and reinforcing me "as is" to host a voice in my head that always sees, assumes, and predicts the worst of me.) Rather, through the lens of life experience I'm choosing people and ideas that speak my language - and in that language support opportunities for growth or understanding, and present new challenges in a way that makes sense to me.
This year Samhain comes at a time in my life when I am inching my way through a phase of reinvention. I'm wrangling with understanding Autism, inhabiting more of my time parenting rather than at my job, renewing healthy habits for my body, trying to write, trying to meditate, trying to reconnect with friends, trying to find our Autism community… The holiday of Samhain is a powerful medium for honoring the ways of being that formed me but that I've set down and welcoming the new life that I am growing into.
So tomorrow evening I will gather with my pagan friends to celebrate Samhain. We will honor our beloved dead with candles, photos and tokens of their lives, sharing their names and what they mean to us. We will welcome new babies born into our communities this year. We will step into a new year through silent meditation and celebration with dancing and food. Much of it will speak to me and some of it will be extras to me that speak more clearly to someone else. But as a whole the ritual and the gathering of friends will carry me and challenge me at this time in my life, speaking to me in a language that makes sense, that is meaningful, to me.