All Souls Day

They say the dead are closer at this time of year. Maybe that’s easier to believe as the nights draw in, as the earth draws into a kind of hibernation. Here in Britain it’s a season of memories, all poppies and fireworks. Remember, remember, what we do to our enemies. Remember, remember the fallen. And while All Souls Day isn’t part of my tradition, there’s something about this time in history that’s bringing the dead closer. For me that isn’t personal mourning but corporate. It’s getting darker earlier now, and in the quiet and in the shadows it almost feels like memories are haunting us like ghosts. It’s been less than a week since a gunman murdered 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue and that can’t help but evoke the countless other times the spirit of antisemitism walked abroad. We say “Never again”, but we’re oh so good at forgetting, and forgetting turns remembrance into repetition.

Traditionally this is a time to commemorate loved ones who have passed on, but ‘All Souls’ is an encompassing name. It’s non-specific, inclusive, draws in the forgotten, the ignored, the disappeared, and when we lean into that, memories can act as an inoculation. Often consciences are haunted – new evidence keeps emerging around the lynching of Emmett Till, and only last week Matthew Shepard was laid to rest after 20 years – but too often it’s not enough. As a society we still worship death too much, and even pastors are enamoured with arms deals. Maybe restless spirits are the price we pay for that.

And yet we need those ghosts, because behind them is life, and though we remember Martin Luther King was assassinated, we can remember his life, his dream. We can be shocked by the image of Alan Kurdi lying dead in the sand, but we can also remember the photograph of a smiling little boy on a slide, and let it transform our image of migrants and caravans. We can remember the innocent and the unarmed who have fallen and honour their names through our calls for justice.

In Mexico they celebrate Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead with festivities and dancing. I like that; I’ve been maudlin here, but there’s a power in remember those we loved, they way they made us laugh, the sound of their voice, the things they taught us, the way they loved us back. Memories have power, they can drive us forward, we can dance into the future because others once danced with us, and others will dance in the future and maybe remember us. We’re part of a lineage, and our stories can give strength to the generations to come.

At the heart of Christian ritual is an act of remembrance, the body and the blood and the empty tomb. And so we’re not saved by the dead, nor need we be haunted, but memory can join us together, can remind us of who we are, who we should be. May our memories be sanctified, and may the ghosts that hold us back move into the light.

4 thoughts on “All Souls Day

  1. Death is ugly, dirty, and futile. Christians are interested in Life, the kind that Jesus offers. When viewed through this, I commemorate those that have passed on to New Life. I shudder to think about the dead.

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