Leaves turn color. Yellow, red, orange, brown. Dry, they fly and fall from the sky. Carpeting the ground, like parchment, they crackle under foot. You can hear them. You can smell them – the mustiness of the earth.
hist whist little goblin.
hist whist little ghostling.e.e.cummings.
It is that time of year again. As night falls, the veil between the worlds is torn. Spirits freely move between heaven and earth, between this world and the next. Lanterns are lit and treats set out to guide home the wayward souls. On All Hallows Eve – the day we call Halloween.
All Hallows’ Eve, even more than All Saints Day was a high holy day at my house. It was just about the only holiday, as a clergy person, that I did not have to work. My children, specifically my son Zach, each year would transform our front porch into a haunted space. With paint and props, spidery cob webs, gooey pumpkin slime, fake blood and guts, and plastic body parts. One year the porch became Dr. Frankenstein’s workshop. Another year (my favorite) the porch became Hotel 666, where you checked in but could never check out.
Trick or Treaters flocked to our front door with their paper sacks and plastic pumpkins. And we always gave out the good stuff. No Dumdums lollipops but chocolate. Especially chocolate! All Hallows Eve. Ah Holy Day.
All Hallows Eve is equally good for grownups too, you know. Faith Hill wrote in the October issue of The Atlantic: “Parents can dive in vicariously through their kids but those of us who don’t have kids around, we can dress up, ruin our teeth, and carve faces into giant winter squashes…this holiday presents us a fleeting chance to stop taking ourselves so seriously.”🎃🎃🎃 It can be our holy day too.
And then, the next day, and the one after that, were and are holy, as well. All Saints Day, November 1st. All Souls Day, November 2nd. Growing up Catholic, the communion of saints enveloped my childhood. Christened in the name of Saint Joan, I was doubly sainted once confirmed. I chose Saint Veronica for her musical, four-syllable name.
And on All Saints Day, after church, it was my family’s tradition to visit Cedar Hill Cemetery, a holy place planted with generations of Peacocks. My mom would bring grass clippers and flowers to tidy up our grandparents’ graves. My siblings and I would play between the headstones – racing down the hill to the pond where we fed the ducks. And before we got back into the car, we’d say a little prayer for all of those souls who rested there.
And we little Catholics, we clutched our holy cards close to our chests. Other kids collected baseball cards; we collected holy cards — the MVP’s of the heavenly host. In these holy persons, the worlds collided: heaven and earth got all tangled up.
We were, after all, standing in a cemetery. One must die to reach the other side.
The snippet from Revelation, which pictures the great multitude from every from every tribe and nation, from all races and languages, is often read at funerals. The day we die is also the day we rise – our resurrection day. And if a saint, our saint’s day, too. My Book of Common Prayer is scribbled with the names of those I have buried these last 28 years.
I am the resurrection and I am the life says the Lord, whoever has faith in me shall have life. And as for me I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth. After my waking, he will raise me up, and in my body, I shall see God. I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.Book of Common Prayer, Burial of the Dead, Rite II
So, how in heaven, do we possibly end up here? A miracle? A healing? An exorcism?
In the Catholic scheme of things, to merit a halo, not only do you have to be a pillar of virtue in life — you also must be a miracle worker in death. In the Episcopal Church, it’s different. Organized like bicameral Congress, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies meet every three years. Candidates are nominated for their virtue, for their resemblance to Christ. Then we vote. Yes, vote. If elected, the new saint gets a date on the liturgical calendar. A lesser feast, so to speak.
And really good news, saints don’t have to be saints all of the time. Every saint is also always a sinner. So, some Anglican saints might surprise you. There are the usual suspects, of course. The Mary’s, the martyrs, the apostles.
But also, including the likes of:
- Johannes Sebastian Bach, composer of sacred music;
- Charles Wesley, 18th century writer of 6,000 hymns;
- Florence Nightingale, 19th century nurse and social reformer;
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionist and suffragette;
- Thomas Gallaudet, teacher and advocate for the deaf.
Blessed be all those, whose lives shine — with the light of the beatitudes.
And blessed be who for you — of those who have gone before?
Browse the obituaries. Stroll through a cemetery. Scour your memory. Read biography. Read history. In whose footsteps, do you pray to follow? On whose shoulders, do you hope to stand? Who else might join that great procession — when the saints go marching in?
When the saints go marching in.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog