All Saints/All Souls/Day of the Dead
I can never get these three days straight -- All Saints, All Souls, and Day of the Dead. They are all signs of our fascination with death, our never-ending effort to make something sensible out of it - to tame it, understand it , calandarize it. We honor the dead -- spend time in tribute to those who have gone before. And while (in the case of All Saints and All Souls) this is a fairly tame enterprise, it seems odd to be so civilized about it all. We sing a few familiar hymns -- "For All the Saints Who From Their Labours Rest" is a particularly beautiful one reserved for this time of the church year -- and then we are on our way.
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
For the apostles' glorious company,
who bearing forth the cross o'er land and sea,
shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
is fair and fruitful, be thy Name adored.
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
and seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify.
O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win, with them the victor's crown of gold.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
all are one in thee, for all are thine.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
and singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
I do love the Day of The Dead, as it is celebrated across Mexico, however. Granted, different regions celebrate it differently, but overall it is a much more engaged day -- one in which Death is real, real with all its tricks and heartaches. Real enough that people eat little sugar candy skulls, parade with dolls made up as skeletons, spend overnight candlelit vigils in cemeteries. Some set food out for traveling spirits -- and pillows and blankets.
Altars to the Dead crop up all over -- from town squares to homes to schools and businesses.
It is a time to spiritually roll around with death, to see it for what it is -- both unavoidable and impermanent. To get all muddy in the ironies of it all, to walk away scathed, having given death its due but knowing that death is merely what we call the transition to eternal life. In Mexico they celebrate this day. It is joyous. They seem to *get it* in ways we do not that although Death comes to us all, it is never ultimately victorious.
It seems to me they have it right.