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Sheltered Reflections # 13

Updated: Nov 1, 2020

By Maureen Kalbus

Sheltering at home amid emerging golden and russet colors, I realize that we are drifting towards the end of October, even as our clocks fall back, and happening upon November and All Saints’ Day. Our church in San Anselmo remembers all who died this year, as their names are read and a chime sounds.

“For all the saints who from their labors rest,

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed.

Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.

Alleluia! Alleluia

O blest communion, fellowship divine!   

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;

Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.

Alleluia! Alleluia!”

We hold in our hearts all who are no longer with us in person, yet they are not distant or absent. They are with us, keeping us company every moment of our lives. John O’Donohue believes that “In their new, transfigured presence, their compassion, understanding and love take a divine depth, enabling them to become secret angels, guiding and sheltering the unfolding of our destiny.” Even years after losing a loved one from our lives, a scent, a piece of music, an item, will stop us in our tracks, stirring a memory, provoking us to catch our breath, and tangibly reach out. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a powerful passage, about being faithful to the vacancy of loss:  

“Nothing can fill the gap 

When we are away from those we love and it would be

Wrong to find anything

Since leaving the gap unfulfilled preserves the bond between us. 

It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap.

He does not fill it but keeps it empty, so that our communion

With another may be kept alive even at the cost of pain.”

All Saints’ Day in the Christian Church commemorates the saints of the church. Its origin cannot be traced with certainty, as it has been observed on various days in different places. However, references go back to the fourth/seventh centuries and to Pope Gregory 111, who dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s, Rome, in honor of all saints. Cultures that celebrate the Day of the Dead, do so as a form of joyful reverence. The celebrations acknowledge the importance of death as a part of the unending, unchanging circle of life. In the Philippines, “Undas”, pays respect to the departed. There is evidence that the Aztecs celebrated traditions over three thousand years ago, and they lasted a full month. The Native American holiday reflects their own spiritual beliefs about nature and the ever present closeness of the spirit world. I appreciated learning about this when recently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal Dreams.” Spaniards visit tombstones to honor the memory of deceased relatives. When Spaniards arrived in Mexico, these ancient customs were combined with Christian beliefs. In rural areas, people made a trail of flower petals from their homes to where they have placed a special altar for the dead. A traditional altar includes seven elements: a picture of the deceased; the person’s favorite food/drink; traditional Bread of the Dead; little skull shaped candies; arrangements of special flowers [marigolds]; candles and incense; colorful tissue paper cut in various designs. After the dead have departed, the food and drink may be shared with neighbors and friends, as they share memories of loved ones. In San Rafael, a string of altars has sprouted up across Downtown, as part of San Rafael’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration, and will be on display until November 2nd. There are also online festivities. []

Growing up in Northern Ireland, I was aware of my family’s respect for dead relatives. Apparently my Dad was taken to Carnmoney Cemetery each Sunday as a boy, to pay respects at family gravesides. My Mum assiduously visited grave yards, particularly on anniversaries and holidays. Once I could drive, armed with flowers, I ferried her. Most of our time was spent in Roselawn Cemetery in the Castlereagh Hills above