Saturday, November 2, 2013

Living Lanterns on The Feast of All Souls

Today is the Feast of All Souls. You might be confused--didn't we just celebrate this holiday yesterday?

No, that was All Saints. All Saints was originally designed to honor the saints, those who had been beatified. Official saints, canonized by the Pope.

All Souls Day, celebrated the day after All Saints, was designed to honor everyone else who had died.

In some traditions, All Saints Day honors all the Christian dead, and All Souls Day honors those who have died in the past year.  In the medieval Catholic theology, those souls would still be in Purgatory, and special prayers would be offered for them on the Feast of All Souls.

Those of you with excellent memories of your English major days may remember that Sir Gawain left for his adventure with the Green Knight on All Souls Day. Medieval audiences would have read a lot into that date of departure.  They would be expecting that next year, Gawain would be one of the souls prayed for on this feast day.

All Souls would develop into the kind of day that drove Martin Luther crazy. On All Souls Day, people would be encouraged to spend money so that their loved ones would get out of purgatory sooner. According to medieval theology, a soul wasn't ready to go to Heaven right away.

In most Protestant churches, All Saints and All Souls have merged into one, and that makes sense to me. Still, my inner English major will always have a sense of these alternative liturgical calendars. I like having more to celebrate, more ways to remind myself that there's more to life than what occupies most of my time (work--both on the job and at my house). I like having holidays that remind me that we're only here for too brief a time. It helps me to treasure the fleeting moments that I have.

Yesterday I came across a reference piece that talked about the triduum of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls.  Triduum means "three days," but I've only ever heard of it used as the time period between Good Friday and Easter.

In many Latin cultures, the Day of the Dead celebrations continue today.  It's not too late for us.  We could prepare a picnic and head out to the graveyard.

Maybe you're like me, and you have no graveyards; your dead loved ones are buried far away.  We could still have those conversations, albeit one-sided, that we miss having with our loved ones.  We could remember the stories our grandparents and older relatives told us.  We could still have a picnic.  We could invite our friends who have become our families.  

We could create altars, the way that many cultures do around this time.  We could put the sepia-toned pictures of our loved ones on the altar.  We could put shells on the altar to remind us of the beach trips with our families.  We could add other reminders of our ancestors.  We could put a pine cone there to remind us of our time in summer camp.   We could add other reminders of our spiritual formation.

Soon we will be skating down the corridor which takes us to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It's a time of breathless pace for many of us.  Let us take another day to remember the souls of those gone before us.  Let us think of our own mortal souls which will not be on this earth for a very long time.  Let us resolve to strengthen our spiritual lives, so that we serve as living lanterns for those coming after us.

Here's a prayer I wrote for today:

Comforter God, you know that we miss our recently dead. We do take comfort from your promise that death will not have the final word, but there are stages of our grief where it is difficult to believe. Please forgive us our unbelief and doubt. Please keep reminding us of your love and care. Please strengthen us to be able to provide the same quality of love and care to those around us who are grieving loss. Please keep our creative imaginations focused on the redemption of Creation, where you have promised we will not have any reason to cry anymore.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

My daughter's school celebrated Dia de los Muertos on Friday, complete with an altar. There was a letter for parents explaining the cultural significance and giving an opt out opportunity. Understandable, but a little saddening. We were busy today, but have sugar skulls to decorate and set out tomorrow.