Hallo again to all.
Such a blur of days. First All Hallows' Eve, then All Saints' Day, and then All Souls' Day. In Mexico and the American Southwest, those three days are rather lumped together as 'Los dias de los muertos', the days of the dead. We have always been particularly observant of the days for all saints and all souls: for us, the Communion of Saints is a vital part of the church. It is easy in modern culture to get lost in the secular rush of Halloween and trick-or-treat, forgetting the soul cakes that spawned that tradition.
During the vigil for All Saints' Day, we were thinking about this weekly letter when my dear friend Frederic McFarland, Cynthia's husband, had a stroke and was rushed in an ambulance to hospital. As Brian writes this letter, Cynthia is standing vigil in the hospital room. Frederic is still there, but improving; debilitated but not demoralized. During the early hours of this emergency, when Frederic couldn't speak or move his fingers or legs, we found ourselves worrying aloud, 'Is he still Frederic? Has this stroke, this bursting of a blood vessel inside his brain, changed his essential being?' Luckily it had not, but it was a long 24 hours before we knew that.
No one would ever accuse Fred of being counted among the piously faithful. But everyone who knows him knows that he's one of God's children, and that his soul will be remembered when he does eventually pass from this world to the next. So there we were, on the days of saints and souls, trying to figure out which one of these he was. If you remember a person on All Souls' Day, just what is it that you remember about him? If a stroke doesn't remove the essence of a person's being, if it leaves him 'still Fred' even if he's temporarily stilled, then it's obvious to us that whatever is that essence of 'being Fred', it involves not his body but his soul. He, himself, doesn't even have to believe in the existence of that soul as long as God knows it's there.
One of the lessons often associated with All Saints' Day is Ecclesiasticus 44, which includes these lines:
For us, the boundary between the living and the dead got very thin this week. As we remember all saints and all souls, we shall evermore include the souls of the living in our prayers for the souls of the dead. And we pray that, as we continue to age, we will be less able to tell the difference between the souls of those we can reach out and touch, the souls of those we talk to every day on the telephone, and the souls of those whose bones lie under decaying stone. All will become more and more jumbled into one. That's what the phrase 'the communion of saints' means to us.
See you next week.
Last updated: 3 November 2002
Note from Brian: every year on All Soul's Day I have wanted to use these fruit images, and Cynthia will never let me, because they are too silly. They are inspired by a song that I sang as a child, about soul cakes. I think that silliness is in order tonight, and she's not here to stop me.