Posted by: Sue Spencer | November 8, 2007

All Saints/All Souls

This year, the Community made a big deal of what Sam Portaro has called “the Autumn Triduum” – the feasts of All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints, and All Souls. It’s still going on, actually, since All Saints is celebrated here as an “Octave” – eight days of commemoration, going from November 1st through the 8th.

Suzanne Guthrie, who along with her husband Bill Consiglio is living alongside us as a “companion” to our community, creates beautiful altars. For this week, our chapel altar is dedicated to the “Saints,” and we’ve been invited to place our icons of holy men and women from Christian and other traditions.

Our Great Room, meanwhile, has been given over to All Souls (November 2), also known in Mexico as “el Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) and in the Episcopal Church as “All Faithful Departed.” Universalist that I am, I especially like the name “All Souls” – a day to remember ALL those we love who have died, recognizing that there’s more than one way to be faithful.

The line between Saints and Souls is a bit blurry. The Episcopal book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts points out that the word “saints” in the New Testament was originally used to describe all the members of the Christian community, not just a few distinguished by their “heroic sanctity.” This older usage is not entirely lost; both Puritan and LDS (Mormon) traditions have used “saints” to describe their entire membership. And no doubt we all have saints in our lives, whether or not religious in a traditional sense. As Lesbia Scott’s lovely hymn tells us, “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church or in trains, or in shops or at tea.”

For All Souls, Suzanne built a large altar where we were invited to place photos and symbols of people (and pets!) we have loved but who no longer walk this planet with us. On November 2 we spent the evening sitting by the fire, bringing these people to life by sharing memories and stories. We also celebrated with festive food, borrowing mainly from Mexican traditions – creating and decorating skulls of marzipan, for example. My main contribution to the feast was a Mexican specialty, “pan de los muertos” (bread of the dead). This is a slightly sweet loaf, rich with eggs and butter, flavored with anise seed, and decorated with bones, skulls, and red sugar.

I used to dread the beginning of November, feeling bereft after the trees were stripped of their leaves, and as the cold came on. Now I find myself loving it. I can understand why ancient peoples saw this as one of the “thin times,” when the membrane between heaven and earth was at its thinnest and most permeable. At our farm, the bare trees once again allow a view of faraway hills, one that’s been missing since April. The end of harvest and the chilly nights signal a time to turn inward, where we can shift somewhat from the tyranny of the immediate and take a longer view. Meanwhile, the feasts of All Saints and All Souls set us, for a time, before the door of eternity.

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Responses

  1. Discerning Sue-

    It is lovely to read of your life now- your overall process of discernment and the day to day doings. I love both autumn and this season of remembrance and thus was taken by your sharing of how you and your community live these holy days, the autumn triduum. Memory is such a potent thing.
    I hope you will sometime tell us of your experience at the altar rail at Kings Chapel. I am back there now, ministering here during Earl Holt’s sabbatical. How many awakenings have occurred within these walls, I wonder?
    Tricia B


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