This weekend we could really feel the seasons shifting as we settle deeper into Fall – with the heavens opening to pour buckets of rain. The PNW is seriously making up for lost precipitation this year, and we are thankful for it. I raked up the leaves that had fallen Friday orning because I knew rain was in the forecast. Looking at our yard and driveway this morning, no one would ever know of my toil, unless you peeked into the filled to the brim yard waste can. The blustery wind has shaken loose most of the leaves off the trees. This time of year always reminds me of a cartoon I saw about 10 years ago. The first caption is a picture of a man talking to the last lone leaf still left on a tree.
“Hang in there little leaf, you can do it.
Don’t fall. Don’t be a follower like the rest of them.”
The last caption – the leaf has let go of the tree and is now dancing in the wind. The man says, “I should give up my job as a motivational speaker.”
I have to admit there have been times when I was having similar conversations with loved ones, who were slipping from this earthly life into life eternal. Not in my out-loud voice, but in the internal regions of my heart – because I wasn’t ready for the person to let go and dance into the wind, into spirit, into the eternal region of divine presence. “Hang in there, little leaf, don’t let go – not yet.” But the leaf had to do what it was destined to do. Those prayers said more about me, my grief, and unprepared readiness to let go. But eventually, the prayer always shifted to:
“May you be free, may you be at peace, may you feel love. Thank you for the gift of your presence in my life and on this earth. It has been good.”
One of my writer friends, Christine Paintner, wrote these words:
In the Northern hemisphere the world is entering the dark half of the year.
The ancient Celtic people believed this time of year to be thin space, a place where heaven and earth whisper to one another across a luminous veil and those who walked before us are especially accessible to us in these late autumn days.
Communication was thought to become possible between the thin veil of the living and the dead. This was considered a pagan holiday, until the 4th century when Christian missionaries such as St. Patrick, attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people, to no avail. Perhaps that is why Pope Gregory the 1st instructed missionaries to use such pagan rituals and consecrate them for Christ back in 601 AD.
And thus we celebrate All Saints Day. It is a day when we remember all those we have loved and lost. Perhaps we should say “those we have loved and released” because they are not lost but have now moved into the nearer presence of God. As we remember those who have gone before us, it creates an opportunity to reflect on how these beloved ones shaped our lives, give thanks for the way they helped open our hearts to love & life.
When we take time to remember those who have touched our lives, it often evokes memory and the deeper places where grief and tears reside. Gordon Cosby, co-founder of the Church of the Savior, an ecumenical congregation in D.C., spoke profound words:
“Every person you see or come in contact with … they sit next to a pool of tears.”
Every so often we need permission to release those tears that reside within us. And All Saints worship often elicits tears of memory, of mourning, of that which is no more. They can also be tears of release and gratitude. If you have ever grieved another’s passing from this life into life eternal, what that tells me is that at some point in your life, you risked opening your heart space to love. You allowed yourself to become vulnerable enough to open your heart to another. I believe that the journey of life AND the journey to God is about becoming vulnerable enough to open our hearts to one another, to risk being hurt, to risk being left alone, to risk the possibility that we will grieve and we will cry for that which is no more in our earthly life. When we open our heart space to another being to love, God blesses that vulnerability. It is precisely in that time of opening & connection & vulnerability that we receive glimpses of divine love.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, gives examples of individuals from our history of faith. Paul lists Abraham and Sarah, who dared to trust in God’s promises, then Moses, who led his people out of slavery. “And what more shall I say? Time would fail to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, of David and Samuel & the prophets…”
But the characters in the Bible do not have the final word of those who have persevered and endured and leaned on their faith in the midst of uncertainty, doubt, grief, & loss.
This ribbon banner represents the communion of saints – open to the winds of the Spirit blowing free. Today we read the names & remember four members of this congregation, and six relatives of those who passed away since All Saints last year. During communion, you will have the opportunity to name aloud and to light candles inmemory of all those you wish to remember.
All of our relationships have made us who we are today. They also influence how we look at the future. Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw Native American poet, storyteller,& environmentalist wrote these words:
“Walking, I can almost hear the redwoods beating. And the oceans are above me here, rolling clouds, heavy and dark. It is winter and there is smoke from the fires. It is a world of all things working together. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
As Christians we are confident that this is not the end. We are not traveling alone. We’re not just fumbling around in the dark. Our path is lit by those who have gone before us; who continue to inspire & influence & motivate those of us who are still making our way to God.
On this All Saints Sunday, we will acknowledge the Saints of our lives, naming them aloud. We will light candles of memory of those who have passed before us. In the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, let us celebrate our communion with God, with one another, and with all the saints. May we all know we are connected to the love of thousands and send that love back into the past and out into the future.
“We clasp the hands of those that go before us, And the hands of those who come after us. We enter the little circle of each other’s arms And the larger circle of lovers, Whose hands are joined in a dance, And the larger circle of all creatures, Passing in and out of life, Who move also in a dance, To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it Except in fragments” ~Wendell Berry