The leaves on the trees are turning the colors of nature's Fruit Loops and then falling to the ground in crispy, fluttery earthy crunchiness. As the leaves fall, black tree skeletons line the horizon, and the chill and stillness of the coming winter sets in. The natural world is going through its annual cycle of retreating from the realm of life, and this reminds us that the veil is thin between life and death.
This week, Christians celebrate the powerful spiritual bond that exists between those in heaven and those on Earth -- All Hallow's Eve on Oct. 31, All Saints Day on Nov. 1, and All Souls Day on Nov. 2. Church services offer remembrances of those who have passed, particularly those who have lived lives of faith. All Souls Day is a time to visit cemeteries and to bring flowers and other offerings.
The dates for these holy days were chosen in the 8th Century in the British Isles to replace the Celtic festival of Samhain -- a liminal time when the boundary of this world and the next can be more easily crossed and spirits, faeries and souls of the dead come to visit. Feasts are held, and departed kin are invited to attend. A place at the table is set for them. Most of our Halloween traditions, such as costumes and trick or treating for candy are derived from this more spiritual Celtic context.
Similarly, El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an ancient ritual mixed with Christian doctrine. This celebration emphasizes our departed loved ones, believing that the spirits of the dead return to join us in the celebration. Originating in Latin America, it is celebrated widely in the U.S. by Mexican-Americans, and celebrations include food, parades, dances and parties. Families clean the graves of departed family members and place there items that person enjoyed while alive.
When I was growing up in Hawaii, my mother took us to a Buddhist bon dance. This is a traditional Japanese ritual meant to welcome spirits of the dead into our world. It was a slow meditative dance at night in a circle of paper lanterns. I found it very peaceful.
We never talked about death growing up. Children were shielded from visiting dying family members or attending funerals. Death was a scary, forbidden topic. We never associated Halloween with the dead, even though we loved dressing up as ghosts, skeletons and witches. Now, I find it very meaningful to know that over the centuries, in a multitude of traditions, humans are comforted by knowing that the veil is thin and that our departed loved ones are near.
My prayer is that your heart is open to a visit from one or more of your deceased loved ones this weekend and that this sacred visitation brings you peace. Love transcends death and the physical world.
Judi Neal is a researcher and consultant and author of several books on workplace spirituality. She is a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
NAN Religion on 11/02/2019
Print Headline: Love survives death