All Souls' Day

The day dawned bright and clear, the sunshine welcome after many days of rain, though I know it is hardly bright or clear for so very many. Today is All Souls' Day, a day traditionally set apart to commemorate the "faithful departed," the dead. A day to remember and grieve, a day to place them, again, safely into the hands of God.

All day today, I watched my two children, both ill but still vital, still alive, and thought about our faithful departed, the people, now gone, who have shaped our lives. It's a strange thing, and not entirely comfortable, to think about death while watching young children play. The contrasts are stark--and yet it is a contrast that is entirely within the realm of life.

I wanted somehow to observe the day, to mark its passing, as I've wanted to on other feast days. The liturgies and rituals of the church for me hold within them the mystery and otherness of God, and while many people see them as dead and irrelevant, they open me up to awe and wonder and love. Far from doing this out of any sense of obligation or duty, I feel a deep desire to suffuse our home with that same awe and wonder and love, and I'm searching for simple ways to do that.

This year, we took a walk in the next door graveyard. We looked at graves, talked a little about the day and the people we know who have died. I told Finn about his great-grandmother, who died just 6 weeks before his birth, but with whom he shares a birthday, and whose presence was felt at his birth. I told him also about Ruth Ives, from whom Willa got her middle name, a woman who taught us so much about hospitality and great love.

This day also I thought of our friends, observing their first All Souls' Day since their baby boy's death last December. I thought of the pain, still so raw, and I wonder if a day like this offers any comfort. The tragedy for them is that so many of their memories are terrible, filled with pain. There wasn't time to make the joyful memories they wanted, though of course they savor each moment they had.

And it seems to me that if the church and her traditions and rituals can offer anything, what's needed here is to remember forward, a phrase often used by author and radio host Krista Tippet, in reference to Lewis Carroll's white queen: "It's a poor sort of memory," she says, "that only works backwards."

To remember forward, is, I suppose, a kind of faith, an imaginative and creative faith that trusts that God is bigger than and outside of our linear notions of time. A faith that trusts that "in Christ all things hold together."

Liturgically and seasonally, this makes sense. When all around us is brown and dying, we remember forward to spring. In a few weeks' time we will celebrate "Christ the King Sunday," (also called Eternity Sunday), a day that helps us remember, both forward and backward, the eternity of God's kingdom. And then after that will come Advent, when we prepare for the incarnation: "eternity shut in a span." Liturgically, it works, and it satisfies me. But practically?

There is no neat and tidy solution here, and I'm tempted to not even post this, as unfinished as it is. But for as long as life endures, grief will be unfinished, with nothing tidy about it. I worship a God who holds past, present and future all together, in a way I can't understand but nevertheless take comfort in.

How small our span of life, O God, our years from birth till death:
a single beat within the heart, the catching of a breath,
a drop within the ocean's deep, a grain upon the shore, 
a flash of light before we sleep to see the sun no more.
And yet our speck of light is spanned by your infinity;
our tick of time on earth is caught in your eternity.
While suns and stars spin endlessly through depths of cosmic space,
while aeons roll and ages pass, you hold us in your grace.
O Christ you left eternity to plunge in time's swift stream, 
to share the shortness of our span, our mortal lives redeem.
You filled the cross-closed years with love, you loved us to the end
 and touch us with your risen life that ours may time transcend.
--Herman G. Stuempfle Jr.

1 comment:

L. DeAne Lagerquist said...

Monte, This may have seemed unfinished to you, but it is elegant and wise. Also your words resonate with my noticing on All Saints Day that it is as we sing the verse "And how there breaks a yet more glorious day...." that tears well up in my eyes. So the emotion is not pure sadness, but also anticipation and hope. DeAne