I always approach the week of Halloween and its festivities at the School with a certain trepidation and uncertainty. I am never quite sure, culturally speaking, exactly what we are celebrating, never quite sure what it means to want to be frightened or to frighten others by way of costume or haunted houses. What does trick or treat really teach? How to be jihadis or beggars? Just not sure what to make of it. Yet I get the idea of play and especially the play of our imaginations with respect to identity.
Beyond that there is something quite wonderful and profound in the meaning of All Hallows’ religiously and philosophically considered especially in the doom and gloom of our culture and, indeed, in the grey darkness of nature’s year. In a world which confronts us with so many awful and frightening events, such as the horrific shooting at the Synagogue in Pittsburg, it is wonderful to have before us the vision of heaven from The Revelation of St. John the Divine and the Beatitudes, the Blessednesses, from Matthew’s Gospel. These are like light in the midst of a worrying darkness.
Is what I see in Chapel each morning something ‘heavenly’? On Tuesday, many students and faculty were in costume: Asians as blonde Goths, Canadians as Ninja warriors, others as dragons and bunnies, eleven apostles (!), and even a Calvin and Hobbes! I always feel obliged to comment on the ambiguity of masks. They both conceal and reveal. Your costumes may say more about your personality than perhaps you realize! Something which Shakespeare knew only too well. There is something equivocal about masks. On the one hand, “there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face;” outward appearances can’t simply and completely reveal our inward thoughts. On the other hand, as Lady Macbeth says to Macbeth, “your face, my thane, is as a book wherein men may read strange matters.” Sometimes we reveal ourselves in more ways than we realize even when we think we are concealing ourselves and our thoughts. Macbeth crowns his fatal decision with the words, “false face must hide what the false heart doth know,” recognizing that we can “make our faces vizards to our hearts, disguising what they are.” For all of the fun of dressing up in costume these are important things to consider.
So we have students in costume but the paradox is that you are far more ‘you’ when you are in your school uniforms. Yet when I look out into the Chapel, whether you are in the costumes of fantasy and the play of the imagination or in your School dress, what I see is what Revelation describes: the human community in the truth of its diversity united in the praise of God. In our world of tribulations and sorrows, there is the vision of who we truly are, a vision of our humanity as redeemed. Here, as in Revelation, are those of many “nations, kindred, people, and tongues.”
We are reminded of the larger dimensions of the community of our humanity that transcends the tribal and the cultural. This idea complements the idea of Revelation itself: God makes himself known beyond “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” as “I Am Who I Am” as we saw last week in the story of the Burning Bush from Exodus 3. Here we have the vision of our humanity in all of its truth and diversity united in one common and universal activity, united in the praise and worship of God.
The vision is intense with “the four and twenty elders,” representative perhaps of the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures or of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the Christian Church along with “the four living creatures,” representative of the four Gospels of the New Testament. They are joined with the Angels in the praise of God. The vision is not about something future but about the truth of our humanity even now, truth as found in what we honour and worship. The real unity of the human community in and through its diversity is found in the activity of prayer and praise. This is the counter to our misuse and abuse of one another and of creation.
The saints are the hallowed ones, the holy ones, who exemplify the vocation of our humanity. That vocation is spelled out in the Beatitudes. They are the blessednesses which speak about the true worth and perfection of our humanity in all of its diversity. At first glance they must seem perplexing and paradoxical. “Blessed are the poor in spirit … Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” for which the reward is the same, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Somehow in and through the hardships and the tribulations, even the violence of hate and persecution which belongs to our suffering world, there is the blessing of “the kingdom of heaven” which is greater than the evils of the world. That is powerful.
All of the Beatitudes are about this kind of inversion of our worldly hopes and aspirations; they the charter of charity for our humanity. They ground us with God. The “poor in spirit” are the humble, for humility is the true condition of our blessedness, the true condition of our life in the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” signals the profound idea that we do not need to be defined by loss and sorrow. The “meek,” in contrast to the mighty and powerful, “inherit the earth,” for they are open to the world as God’s world and not as the playground of human pride and power. “Hunger[ing] and thirst[ing] after righteousness” is a blessing which belongs to the truth of God for us in our lives. The merciful are blessed “for they shall obtain mercy,” the highest form of justice, the perfection of justice, we might say, which defines our life with God and with one another. What a contrast to the dog eat dog world that so often besets us! Against the sad and destructive divisions of our hearts, our communities and world stands the concept of “the pure of heart,” itself the condition of beholding the pure One, God. And “the peace-makers” are blessed and are “called the children of God.” Such are the conditions for the real perfection and truth of our humanity. Our blessedness is found in God through the true diversities of our humanity in its experiences.
Matthew drives it all home in a concluding image of tribulation, the idea of being persecuted and reviled and spoken evil of falsely for my sake, for the sake of truth. There is a blessing to be found even in our tribulations. But it means looking to God and to our life in God. That we can is precisely the blessing. We leave the last word to the last words of the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy. Let’s go exploring.”
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy
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