Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Halloween and Death: Part 1

Forrest Church, a much beloved Unitarian Universalist minister at All Souls in New York City, author, and theologian, died this past September 24. Church knew he was dying of cancer and his final book, Love and Death, published in February 2009 summed up his work and thoughts on this topic.

In it, Church writes that, “religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die...Knowing we must die, we question what life means. The answers we arrive at may not be religious answers, but the questions death forces us to ask are, at heart, religious questions: Where did I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? What is life's purpose? What does all this signify?"

I write and ponder all this not just as a human being grappling with these mysteries but as a religious educator wondering, how do we hold this up to our children? What do we say? What do we offer at First Unitarian Society Schenectady?

On Halloween and Death: Part 2

On November 1 we will have an All Hallows Eve party during our regular religious education classes. Children in classes PreK thru seventh grade will be involved in the party. It will be similar to what we have had in the past and focus on current symbols that acknowledge death and dying that we see around us. We're letting go of the haunted house, for a number of reasons, and celebrating the turning of the wheel with pumpkins, apples, flowers and altar making, Days of the Dead smiling skeletons, stories and of course cider doughnuts.

Read on for some whys.....

Halloween is a holidays with deep roots. There have been celebrations around this time of year for thousands of years.

For a number of years I have thought about and anguished over exactly how it is we celebrate this time.

I believe Halloween is about death and how we view death. As a religious educator I have spent a lot of time pondering how we present death to children.

Children are not immune from death. Last year children in our religious education program experienced the death of a classmate. My own children have experienced the death of a close grandparent.

How do we think about this ourselves and how do we share this with our children?

After my dad died I realized how ill-equiped I was to deal with the continuing reality of his death. Since I spent a number of years in Tucson, I embraced the holiday, “Days of the Dead” Days of the Dead has roots in Aztec culture and Christianity. There are skeletons, but they are smiling and doing things they enjoyed when they were alive. Days of the Dead recognizes death and celebrates the life of those who went before, ancestors, friends, pets.

Unitarian Universalism has not only principles to follow but sources to draw from. One of those sources is earth-centered traditions.

This fall I have spent time studying goddess religions, paganism, wiccan. What struck me was this, “Death doesn't kill.” Our portrayal of death around this time of year is often as something that will seek us out and kill us. It takes death out of the natural cycle of life and puts it into a realm of good and evil. Life is good, death is evil. But, in reality, we kill each other, we die from disease, old age, accidents.

If we were really to see death as part of the cycle of life we need to see it as natural. It doesn't mean we don't grieve when someone we care about dies. Whatever we believe about what happens after death, there is grief and sadness.

So what I have come to is to look to earth-centered traditions and to present the concept of the Wheel of Life. Our preK children through third graders learned in Spirit Play about the wheel of life and an ancient Celtic celebration called Samhain (pronounce sow-wen).

This Sunday we will continue this with our All Hallow's Eve Party including our fourth through seventh graders.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Children's Chapel Sunday

This Sunday is our first Children's Chapel!. NEW this year; grades PreK through five will start in the preK/K room, next to the nursery.

Children's Chapel lasts about 20 minutes and is a service just for our youngest that introduces them to the themes, practices and rituals of Unitarian Universalist worship.

This week our theme is "Everything is holy now."