Feast of All Saints: A Gathering of Spirits


A Gathering of Spirits © Jan L. Richardson

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.

(To use this image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!)

7 Responses to “Feast of All Saints: A Gathering of Spirits”

  1. Mavis Says:

    I like the thin places image. I have a personal season of ‘pre-Advent’ and like to get the Christmas tree out about now. December gets just so busy (and hot in this part of the world). I also love your art. And the statement. Very moving. The auction sounds a wonderfilled night.

  2. Elizabeth Nordquist Says:

    On this Holy Day, I give thanks to the Holy One for your role as Preacher and Teacher in my life this past year. I have just returned from a four day retreat at Casa del Sol, Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiu, New Mexico, in the house next to Georgia O’Keefe’s with my group of Ammas. A thin place at a thin time, and Spirit hovered over us in restoration, healing, love and laughter. Thanks for your sign-posts and encouragement on the way! Have a Blessed Day! (Yes, I am retired… in another liminal place of Spirit!)

  3. Jan Richardson Says:

    Many thanks, Mavis and Elizabeth. Mavis—blessings to you in your “pre-Advent” season—a lovely idea! Elizabeth—your retreat at Casa del Sol sounds wondrous, particularly at this thin time of year. I visited Abiquiu on a visit to Santa Fe a few years ago. An enchanting contrast to Florida (which can be enchanting in a different way).

  4. Christine Says:

    Another Central Floridian here. I love your art at the top of this post. It’s so thought provoking and lovely. The idea of a thin place appeals to me as well, on many levels. I feel the same way lately – and have only come recently to realize that it’s an annual feeling.

  5. Dawn Says:

    Jan,
    Thank you for your art (work?). This image for All Saints’ stirs, resonates and allows me to rejoice and remember those who are now at the Feasting Table.

  6. Katrina Says:

    Just wanted to thank you for your art and your words. I visit your site almost weekly for sermon prep inspiration… and it felt like about time that I say: THANK YOU!

  7. Marina Lachecki Says:

    Your work always inspires me and leads me into a deeper appreciation of the word…have always thought there are thin places on earth, let alone in the year of time with space.
    thank you for your reflections and images.

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