Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Feast of All Saints

For most of us, the celebration of Hallowtide or Hallowmass ends with Halloween.  Those of us who are more liturgical might recognize that All Saints Sunday comes around every year.  Maybe we look forward to it.  Maybe we shrug and say, "Well, great, a day to miss and appreciate our loved ones."

I'm happy to appreciate the ones who have gone before, but again, I think we risk insipidness.  Perhaps it's my training as an English major, but I hate that modern traditions minimize the medieval aspects. 

Medieval people would have seen this three days as one of those "thin places," the time when the separation between worlds was much thinner.  It's a belief rooted in pagan times, about parts of the seasonal year when souls from the other world might slip back.  In a world lit only by fires, one can see where it would be easy to be spooked this way.

In our fear of any beliefs that don't mirror our own, many churches have banned the Halloween aspect of this three days.  And we've sanitized the other two days.

In this blog post,  the Rev. Laurie Brock reminds us of the roots of the All Saints feast day:  "Lest we think All Saints is only a lovely, elegant holy day where we pray the litany of saints and sing the song of the saints of God, we are remembering people who were martyred (church lingo for dying an often painful and unpleasant death). Early commemorations of this day involved venerating relics of the dead. So imagine going to church and praying with a mummified foot or remnants of a skull of a saint on the altar. Or going to church and praying the names of ones who had been martyred who were members of your family or close friends. So while it is a day of prayerful hope, sadness and tears weave the hope together."

And in more ancient times, the Feast of All Souls is the day after the Feast of All Saints.  All Souls is the feast where we remember the ones who have died in the past year.  Even our most liturgical churches have lost the idea that we're observing two very different kinds of celebrations. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to live in modern times, not medieval ones.  But I do envy other cultures who have much more vibrant grieving customs.  Our culture seems to expect us to grieve for 3-5 days, if we get bereavement leave at all, and then it's back to work.

I plan to take a page from the Mexican Day of the Dead festivities--but in the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that I might not be doing this if I wasn't in charge of our All Saints interactive service tomorrow.  I shall bake some Pan de Muerta*.  I have made candles scented with rosemary, the herb of remembrance.   We will talk about our loved ones and the Lutheran idea of saints and the larger idea of saints.

And then we'll do some quilting.  We had such interest in quilting during our recent God's Work, Our Hands day that people requested we do it again soon.  All Saints seems a good day to return to our quilting for Lutheran World Relief.  After all, many of our now-gone relatives quilted. 

And one way to celebrate All Saints and All Souls is to praise the activities that transform ordinary humans into saints.  Making a quilt for Lutheran World Relief may seem like a trivial response to the gaping needs we see in the world.  But it is a response, and in the larger world, we don't always have much opportunity for this kind of saint-making behavior, responding to the miseries of the world.

*If you'd like to bake along with me, here's the recipe:

Pan de Muerto, “Bread of the Dead"

From Adapted by David Eck

BREAD: 1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
5 1/2 cups flour
2 packages dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 T. whole anise seed
2 T grated orange zest
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling. [100-110 F degrees]

Meanwhile, measure out 1 1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1 1/2 cups of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, orange zest and sugar. Beat the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch dough down and shape into 4 loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with “bones” placed ornamentally around the top if desired. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool and paint on glaze.

Bring 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup orange juice to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush. If desired, sprinkle on colored or regular sugar while glaze is still damp.

You can buy anise seed in the bulk spice section of Fresh Market. It’s very reasonably priced there. You can use rapid rise yeast in this recipe which may cut down on the rising time. Keep an eye on it. You can also make this recipe in a mixer with a dough hook.

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