Ahhhh…it’s the Feast of All Saints, almost. I love this time of year. Here in central Florida we’re just beginning to touch the fringe of Autumn’s cloak. There’s something stirring, a shift in the works, and it doesn’t have to do solely with the weather.
I’m not sure quite when it started, but for many years, the trinity of days from October 31 to November 2, encompassing Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day, has been a thin place in the landscape of my year. The ancient Celts, who celebrated the major festival of Samhain around November 1, believed that the veil between worlds became especially permeable at this time. In something of that spirit, I find that these days offer an invitation to ponder the past. Not with a desire to return to it, or to second-guess it, but with a mindfulness of what has gone before, and perhaps to have a brief visit from the ghosts of What Might Have Been.
It’s this kind of impulse that gave rise to the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Recognizing the ancient habit of looking to the past at this time of year, the church created new ways to remember the dead with practices in which we can still hear the echoes of the ancient celebrations. Each culture that observes these feast days continues to add their own layers of meaning and mystery, as with the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations that originated in Mexico (and which, of course, rest on pre-Christian festivities). My own observance of these days usually includes setting aside some time for quiet, for remembering, for prayer, for doing some writing that’s just for me. And good food, of course. And lighting a few flames.
I had a taste of the Feast of All Saints a bit early this year. The theme for the Grünewald Guild’s gala dinner and auction that Gary and I helped with in Washington last weekend was A Gathering of Spirits. The title came from Carrie Newcomer’s song of the same name, which she wrote out of her experiences of teaching at the Guild. I created a piece of artwork for the auction and the cover of the evening’s program—it’s the image you see above—and designed it with the theme, and Carrie’s song, in mind. It shares the same title.
The folks who contributed artwork to the auction each had to write an artist’s statement to accompany our piece. Here’s how mine went:
Before the paint, before the color-drenched layers, it began with a prayer. Penciled words across the white paper: a litany of blessing, a liturgy of thanksgiving for a holy place in the Plain Valley where the worlds of art and faith intertwine. Then the painting, then the cutting, then the layering of papers atop the penciled prayer. With every piece, another prayer; with every layer, another memory of those who have passed through the thin, thin place that is the Guild. Remembering how their presence lingers. A communion of saints, say, to sustain us when the way grows daunting. Or call it this: a gathering of spirits.
What stirs your memories in this season? Who are the folks, living or dead, who linger close in these days? Whom do you gather with? Who or what haunts you? How do your memories help inspire your path ahead?
May this week offer you a thin place and a gathering of good spirits. Blessings.