Yesterday, Saturday, was cold, the temperatures dropping, surprising me. Damp seeped over the hills, sliding into our home through windows and doors, an invisible chill. I grabbed my winter jacket and headed for our parish’s annual Holiday Boutique.
Red-draped tables were piled high with goodies and gifts – soup mixes, cookies, cakes; country crafts, colorful cottons to hold shoes, paisleys to cosset jewelry, floral prints to keep bread warm with a tiny pocket of rice to microwave and return to the neat little pocket (so clever!). The hall was full of imagination and color, and I meandered along the aisles, caught in a garden of dreams turned into handiwork that had been loved with each stitch and with each knit and purl. There were tiny booties and toasty slippers in blues and pinks and colorful jumbled weaves, little caps and big caps for the snow and rain, for the little people and the big people, scarves looping and softly flowing, shawls to drape over chilling shoulders. The men of the parish had made signs for the busy street corner and had climbed ladders to loop streamers between green wreathes in the hall. Holiday music swung from note to note, getting us all in the mood. There were raffle tickets for bottles of wine and gift baskets and even a set of my little books.
My little books looked rather dull next to all of this. Nevertheless, I set them out and signed and chatted with folks as they dropped by.
This last week was one of my favorites in the Church Year. The world was silly on Halloween Monday – pretending to be what it was not, wishing for more sugar (who doesn’t?), being someone else for a few hours, someone good, evil, famous, clever, silly, serious. Goblins and witches roamed neighborhoods and folks gathered to sip mulled wine and answer doorbells and fill pillow cases with mini candy bars. Trick-or-treat! Halloween. All Hallows Eve. The night before All Saints Day. The night when the spirits of the dead roamed the earth, that is, before the belief was vanquished by the Church. Perhaps those spirits too were unhappy with who they were.
There was a time, before the West was Christianized, when the end of summer was celebrated on October 31. It was believed that the spirits of ancestors roamed the earth this night, and folks would light bonfires to frighten them away. They also left food out to appease their terrible tempers. Christianity dispelled those fears, or should have, for Christians do not believe that the dead roam the earth, but rather that they are with God in Heaven. We no longer fear the dead or our own death. The Church, as it did with many of its festivals explaining this wonderful resurrection faith, transformed a pagan festival of fear into a Christian festival of love, All Saints, honoring these men and women of God.
And so on All Saints Tuesday we gathered to offer our thanksgivings for the saints, past, present, and to come, those living among us, loving us, sacrificing for us. We met in the great nave and before the white tented tabernacle and offered this Mass of thanksgiving for those who knew fully who they were, who in their life on earth grew more and more full of God. As they journeyed in time, God molded them into their true selves.
Many of us returned on Wednesday for All Souls day, that day of thanks and remembrance for the rest of those who have died and have passed into eternal glory. As Christians we know these souls do not roam the earth. We live with the certainty they are happy and that we shall join them one day. At the Mass for All Souls our priest read the names of those members and friends of the parish who have traveled to Heaven, and I listened to the list tolled in the cool air of the sanctuary, as light streamed through skylights upon the crucifix. I knew many of them. Among them there were Willa and Louise and Jeanine and Kay and Vi and Elizabeth and Dot, women who had mothered me in my single parent days, women who had cuddled my four-year-old son who at the time had no father in his life. There were the men too – Hugh and George and John and Jim. And many more. These are the saints I think of often, the souls in heaven who made such a difference on earth, who knew all about love.
So it was with a heart full of those who had gone before me, those who had once stood in this hall and sold handicrafts crafted with love so many years ago, that I browsed our parish Holiday Boutique. I gave thanks for the men and women who had gone ahead and as I lifted my eyes to one of the ladies selling a calico memo holder with magnets for the fridge, I was overwhelmed by love.
I left the church laden with goodies, and impatiently awaiting the chance to try the freshly made pecan pralines. I also carried in my bursting bag a jar of soup mixings, the same savory minestrone we had with our tea-lunch (excellent) and while I am not much of a cook, this has given me a goal. We shall have soup over the holidays, paired with a nice crusty loaf of whole wheat.
It was raining lightly as I made my way to my car. I pulled my jacket tighter about me and popped open my umbrella, ready to journey a bit farther in my span of time, full of the life and love of God manifested in his people.