03
Nov
10

All Souls, ooops!

Here it is and I missed All Souls Day (November 2) without posting.  I had intended to post, but was fairly busy for half of the day yesterday (Election Day), a day I was dreading, and then spending most of my time doing other things to stay busy and not think about the likely awful outcome of the day.  It might be taken as a sign that I didn’t post on All Souls’ Day, given the troubles at All Souls Church — perhaps it is a sign, though I hadn’t intended it so.

A word on the significance of All Souls’ Day for me.  Growing up Catholic and attending parochial schools, I got off all holy days of obligation (days other than Sundays when one was required to attend Mass).  All Saints Day (November 1) is one such day, so as a Catholic boy, I didn’t have to go to school the day following Halloween.  The purpose of the day off from school was to allow us all to go to Mass with our families, but my friends and I looked on it as a holiday, one in which we could recover from the sugar-induced hangover we found ourselves in.  Having the day off, while all the public school kids had to struggle through their day in school, still reeling from the night before, made the day even more special. 

The purpose of All Saints’ Day was two fold — it was to celebrate all the saints in heaven, who were quite a bit more than could fit in the 365 days of the calendar year.  The various feast days through the year were for the big saints (though there are some obscure saints in the calendar), saints who were honored as the patron of various groups, cities of countries.  Some of those days, St. Patrick’s Day, for instance, have become secular holidays.  As all of us are potentially saints, and all those who had died, but had been good people, and had made it to heaven, were saints. The other purpose of the day was to take the fire and thunder out of the pagan holiday, Samhain, aka Halloween.  We could now remember our blessed dead in a Catholic context.  The Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker (May 1) is supposed to do the same thing for May Day.  No need to be a member of the Communist Party — St. Joseph (the patron saint of St. Joseph, MO) was himself a working man fighting for the rights of all with a hammer in his hand. 

I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade when I learned about All Souls Day.  Back in school following our holiday, I’m sure that our teacher mentioned that the day was All Souls, and may have given us some instruction about it.  My first reaction was that we got All Saints’ Day off, and we should get All Souls’ Day off, too.  For the way All Saints’ had been explained to me — it was so we could celebrate all those who were in heaven (our blessed dead).  All Souls’, though, was for us to think on and pray for all those (our not quite blessed yet dead) who were in purgatory.  There was no All Damned Day for gloating over those who were dancing in the fiery pit.  In other words, All Souls’ was something of an after-thought.  And I felt bad and sorry for those who needed the day off.  The Saints didn’t need our acknowledgement — they made it — they were happy, no matter how much we thought of them or not.  The Souls I always imagined as feeling lost and alone — even though they were on the road to heaven, they weren’t there yet, and must have felt lost.  From that point on, though I still would have liked the day off, I would spend some of each All Souls’ Day thinking of those in purgatory.  And the day, for me, at least, remains something of a holy day.  Even though I no longer find myself believing in an afterlife (no afterlife — no purgatory or souls, for that matter), the day remains important to me.

When I came to Kansas City, I found out that the Unitarian Church in the city was called All Souls, and I felt at home.  I know that All Souls is a pretty common name for Unitarian Churches — that name and Church of the Messiah were the two most common name for Unitarian Churches that didn’t go the number route.  There are still a few Churches of the Messiah about, but not many.  Still, I took it as a sign when I came out here to interview for a job.  And when I moved to Kansas City, the first opportunity I had to sign the book was on November 2 which fell on a Sunday that year.  It very much seemed an instance of synchronicity. 

And now, I’m somewhat on the outside.  The past couple of years have been extremely trying at the Church.  I’ve always felt somewhat an oddball at the church (which is o.k. — I don’t mind oddball status) as I still envision my secular ideas through the lens of my Catholic upbringing.  My own religious path calls me to acknowledge wonder and is largely celebratory, and serves for me as a counter to the judgmental nature of some religious people.  At All Souls, over these past years, we’ve had hurt people who largely changed the mission of the church to get the minister — I feel sorry for their pain, but I’m not sure that the sacrifice of any scapegoat can really heal a community.  In the political sphere it always angers me that the Democratic party is too timid in espousing its own great message, and, as a result, we have others in the political arena who are good at pushing a message of fear and distrust which doesn’t bring us together.  It only keeps us apart.  I think that All Souls has a lot of hard work ahead of it, possibly harder work than they’ve had before.  I don’t think that good will alone, or tolerance, will bring the church back as a force in the community.  And so, I’ll celebrate this All Souls on the outside (still a member, but not attending) with the same sort of melancholy hope I felt for all the souls in Purgatory.

speaking my truth in love,

b

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