One World and All Souls

I was very struck by Rev. Brooks’ story in today’s service on the Buddhist monk living at a Methodist seminary. To recap the story briefly, this monk was staying at a Methodist seminary in the United States, and most of the seminary students were cool with this, but one of the seminarians was intent on holding the line, and informed the monk (perhaps out of concern for his eternal soul, and not out of malice) that he was heading for Hell if he followed his current path (and didn’t accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior). The monk accepted the statement and suggested that he looked forward to Hell and taking care of so many souls in need. That statement apparently impressed many of the seminarians, though there was no word of its effect on the interlocutor who warned the monk of Hell.

That story struck a nerve with me, especially as a person at All Souls. I joined the church here on All Souls Day the year I moved to town. I took it as a good sign that I signed the book on All Souls Day (November 2) which had special connections for me as a student at St. Peter’s School (Catholic) in Dorchester, MA. In Catholic circles, Nov. 1 is All Saints Day, a day in which all of the saints (and we are all potentially saints) are celebrated. The church calendar does not allow for all saints to have a feast day that makes it into the missals, or the church calendars. And so, on All Saints’ we celebrate all those saints who are not as familiar as the big names. Of course, All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 was originally meant to counter the pagan festival of Samhain (aka Hallowe’en), just as May 1 (May Day) became the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker (i.e. Catholic workers v. Communist workers). And in Catholic schools, at least when I grew up, we got All Saints Day off — it was a Holy Day of Obligation and we were freed from school but had to attend Mass. The day we came back was All Souls Day (Nov. 2), and I remember one of the nuns — I think it was Sr. Paschal (6th grade) who discussed this day with us. On All Souls Day we were to pray for the souls of those who had died, but who may still be in Purgatory. There was no praying for people who went to Hell, as that sentence was irrevocable. And I thought it ironic that we got a day off in celebration of those who had made it to heaven, but the feast of those “left behind” in some way got second billing and went largely unnoticed because we were in school and focused on our studies, which most often were in matters of this world, and not matters celestial. I was a strange kid — my favorite sacrament was not Communion, but Confession — I was big on atonement and making up! I was sad when Extreme Unction (the blessing of someone on the point of death) had its name changed so it seemed less extreme. And so, I thought a lot about those poor souls who didn’t have people on their side (other than their loved ones, and I imagined there were many who had few loved ones to have their back) much more than I thought about the saints who made it. And so, the Buddhist’s response to “You’re going to Hell” rang true for me, and reminded me of All Souls Day and All Souls Church.

And the point about remembering the forgotten seems especially appropriate in a denomination, one strand of which believed and preached Universal Salvation (everyone’s going to Heaven, eventually — there is no Hell, as a loving God could do no such thing) and the other continues to question categories and categorization. The name All Souls suggests that we are open to all, and I hope that is true. Being open to all is not easy. I’ve spent my life working with the general public, and that means I often have to work with people who try my patience a lot. When I’m at my best, and sometimes I’m there, I get past my “Oh, no, please don’t come over here and ask me a question!” to realize that it is probably pretty tough for this person to have to come and ask a question. And sometimes I have to deal with people who have some compulsion where they need to ask the same questions over and over. So every day we’ll get the same questions. This sometimes frustrates my co-workers, and sometimes frustrates me, but I think that how tough it must be for that person who has such a compulsion. Again, when I’m at my best (and I am not always so) it feels good to go through the same old dance, yet again with such people.

So, in honor of Rev. Brooks, the story she told, and the importance All Souls has had for me, I hope that we, at All Souls, can go through the dance yet again with our partners, stay open to the stories we each have to tell, and make this place as All Soulsy as it can be. For us, perhaps, All Saints makes no sense (well, it still does for me), but being one with the world, and in the world, one with the myriad souls here and now — perhaps that is “paradise enow.”

2 Responses to “One World and All Souls”

  1. 1 HAN
    September 11, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Thanks for this. I haven’t gone to services in a LONG while… Jason’s Heyoka service in April was my last and I kinda had to be at that one. This post tells me it’s time to return.

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