by Christine Sunderland
Tonight is All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saints Day. For now, the dark of tonight eclipses the light of tomorrow. Death shadows life. The ghoulish threaten the beautiful.
In pre-Christian Celtic Britain, October 31 was considered the end of summer and harvest, the day before winter and longer nights. Believing that the spirits of their ancestors roamed the earth this night, people lit bonfires to scare them away. Food was set out to appease them. Christianity freed the living from fear of the dead, for the spirits were with God and no longer roamed the earth. The Church sanctified, hallowed, this night by honoring the saints the following day, emphasizing God’s love and life, rather than ghostly fear and death. The beautiful, the holy, replaced the ugly and the grotesque.
As Christian writers, we are called to sanctify, hallow, today’s pagan world with the beauty of holiness. Like those who don costumes on Halloween, readers don a character, to become another person for a time within the story. The reader uses his imagination, God-given, a sacred and unique anointing of God’s creative breath. As pages turn, the reader breathes the writer’s breath of life, inhaling and exhaling words, living the life breathed within the pages, on screen or paper, by this human creator, the author.
In the dark of All Hallows’ Eve – Hallowe’en – we glimpse the dawn of All Saints’ Day, for Halloween’s rituals reflect our journeys through time on earth. We traipse through our shadowy world, searching for doors opening to light and warmth, portals protecting us from darkness and cold. An elder offers sweet goodness. Trick or treat, we say, echoing the ghoulish threats of the pagan past, asking for sanctification of those old horrors. We stand on the threshold in the dark, and the door opens to the blinding light. We reach for treats with open palms, reaching for God’s beauty, his love.
The pages turn, and the reader hopes for just such a light to shine in the darkness. She hopes that the author on the threshold will open the door to her soul and feed her with goodness, beauty, and truth. The reader breathes deeply, hands open, heart open, and steps into the world of the writer. Readers trust that the unspoken contract will be unbroken, that the God-like author opening the door will give them beauty that is true, that is good. Readers breathe the words and the ways of this proffered world with hope and faith. Stepping into the pages, they seek to breathe the breath of God, the beauty of holiness, and to know the holiness of beauty, the wholeness of love.
Life is precious. We breathe in; we breathe out. Some of us breathe the Holy Name of Jesus in an unceasing prayer of thanksgiving. For our lives depend on our breathing. And there is a rhythm to our breathing, a heartbeat pulsing blood through flesh. The beauty of this living dance can be reflected in the Christian novel, in its pace, in its setting, in its story.
One cannot talk of beauty’s breath without speaking of hope, and one cannot speak of hope without faith. When we describe a scene, or a person, or a desire, there is, beneath the words, hidden between the phrases, beauty breathing God’s spirit upon us. Beauty must breathe through our writing, subtle sometimes, hinting at beauty to come, the promise of dawn in the dark of night. Come Holy Spirit. Breathe upon us, breath of God.
In writing of the breath of beauty, this invisible pulsing of truth, words seem inadequate. For the breath is beneath the words, in the inhaling and exhaling, in the patterns and phrases that comfort and inspire the reader. In my sixth novel, The Fire Trail (eLectio 2016), UC grad student Zachary Aguilar is in love with beauty. He searches for it, finding it in music, poetry, literature, and within the hearts of others. He collects his moments of discovery, treasuring them. He is traveling toward the beauty of hope and faith and God, unknowingly. For those who search for beauty and truth are searching for our own God of love, creator of the world without end.
Christian novelists intuitively understand that storms pass, and when they do, the clouds part and the sun enlightens Earth. We must experience the storm to know the calm, but as the rain and wind lash against our little boat tossing on the Sea of Galilee there is a Holy One we turn to. He calms the storms – in our hearts, in our communities, in our lands. It is the silhouette of the Master at the helm that Christian writers recall and reflect. For it is he alone who reminds us of the calm to come, and it is he alone who inspires the faith that we will breathe beauty once again.
The saints knew this, know this – those men and women in our neighborhoods, schools, churches. They are those who breathe beauty in and out, enlivening and enlightening us with hope and faith. Hallowe’en recalls the Feast of All Saints and the promise of dawn, as long as we celebrate the breath of beauty.
Christine Sunderland has authored six award-winning novels: Pilgrimage, set in Italy, Offerings, set in France, Inheritance, set in England, Hana-lani, set in Hawaii, The Magdalene Mystery, set in Rome and Provence (all Oaktara), and The Fire Trail (eLectio), set at UC Berkeley. She serves as Managing Editor for the American Church Union (www.AmericanChurchUnion.com). Visit Christine at www.ChristineSunderland.com (website and blog).