Sunday, November 01, 2009

All Saints

It's the day on the calendar following Halloween that, growing up Southern Baptist, no one knew much about save the Catholic girl down the street who taught me how to sing "The Lord is my good shepherd, I'll follow Him alway" in a haunting round that still echoes in my mind on sad and lonely days. I was, and still am, precociously spiritual and the rock pillars I've erected to God, those life-changing signposts that say, "God spoke to me here," well, they are many and of varied stones in numerous times and places. Lately some old friends from my non-denominational cairn have become enamored of liturgy. Or maybe I've only lately noticed. But when many friends from many eras not only quote church fathers, but read extra-canonical literature as devotional material and follow the liturgical calendar and participate in High Church services and carry pictures of a saint in their wallet and no longer read Revelation as a tome against the Roman Church, well then I stop slouching and do more than raise an eyebrow.

I, too, have grown tired of contemporary services where I have to stare at a projection screen to follow the words sung too fast, and though I really like jazzy, rocky beats, it feels suddenly foreign in church. I find myself craving a reading, a scripture, a prayer, and the breaking of bread and drinking of wine more than once a month. I'm hungry for a tradition that spans beyond the 1970's Jesus movement. I want to follow a calendar of seasons and celebrate a true Advent and re-learn the wisdom of the Fathers. (It helps that I got a degree in religion and philosophy and actually know what I'm missing.)

This morning we went to my father's church, a stately, new, Methodist one in the middle of vast building expansions which also happens to be where my sister's family have attended for the last ten years. It was this church that performed the funeral services for my stepmother when she died this past March and I rarely attend except on Christmas eve or when my niece or nephew has some special performance. Aside from the connection to the Wesley brothers, the Methodist Church has seemed one of the more mundane of the denominational churches I've attended. But this church observes All Saints Day and this year, Marie's name would be read allowed followed by the chiming of a tiny bell. And how often does All Saints Day actually occur on a Sunday? Probably about as often as my birthday.

We went all together as a family and took up nearly an entire pew. I tried to ignore the widow who's been hot after my father since August and managed to plant herself in the pew behind us. None of us trust or like her except my father, but that's another story. I just suddenly found it hard to remember the precious saint who died in March and left a huge gaping hole in our family like the earth just opened up and threatened to cave in all the buildings and bridges we had built together. Then the choir sang a requiem, Agnus Dei and a slow drum resounded through the Latinate and a soloist sang Pie Jesu and the woman who officiated spoke about the tomb of the unknown soldier and though that connection still escapes me it held the earth in place. The deacons and deaconesses broke yeasty bread which we dipped in honest wine and I had to walk forward to receive it and watched as my children took it for the first time in their lives because the Methodists believe it is okay for anyone to partake regardless. The bread lodged in my throat and the wine burnt my tongue and I forgot everything else. I allowed the ministry of the saints to enfold me.

The widow managed to squeeze my dad's shoulder has she passed behind him and I still don't trust her an inch, but I laid Marie to rest and felt the solace of re-visiting the dead. What have I been so afraid of all these years? What are ashes on the skin or the lighting of a candle or the appreciation of the dead?

A few days ago, I was introduced to the late poet and philosopher, John O'Donohue. Here is his beautiful blessing to his mother, following the death of his father. It is entitled Beannacht, which means blessing, and is found in his book, Anam Cara.

John O'Donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth by yours
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work the words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.


Lindaa said...

It is so great to see how John’s work continues to weave “words of love . . . an invisible cloak, to mind your life.” I also want to support you in sharing that inspiration and love. I am, however, responsible for minding the technicalities connected with the preservation of John’s estate and literary legacy. John’s family would be very grateful if you would add to your quote a note that gives the web site: — so that those who want to know more about John can come to us?

warmly and with gratitude,

Karen Miedrich-Luo said...

Thank you Linda for your support and information on the link. I am more than happy to oblige.

harold said...