It’s All Souls’ Day, 2019

All-Soulo entry for 11/2/2019

I’m not sure that I’ve done this consistently.  If fact, I’m sure that I have not consistently posted on All Souls’ Day.  And that seems a shame to me.

In an effort to “Christianize” pagan holidays (in this case, those of the Celts), the Roman Catholic Church declared November 1 as “All Saints’ Day,” a holy day of obligation (you have to go to Mass).  This was to counter the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which we see as Hallowe’en (though that name comes from the Feast of All Saints or All Hallows, with the evening before the holy day, being All Hallows’ Eve).

As a kid in parochial school, I loved getting a day off (holy days of obligation were also holidays in Catholic schools – they aren’t any more, but time is taken during the day to go to Mass) for All Saints’ Day, but, in 6th grade,  I remember coming back to school on November 2 and learning it was “All Souls’ Day.”  The idea was that All Saints covered all those saints who did not make it onto the Church calendar (and there are a lot of those, but a lot more who just didn’t get an official day).  All Souls, though, was dedicated to the souls in Purgatory, souls that hadn’t yet earned their wings.

The story Sr. Paschal told of All Souls’ Day touched me.  The way I figured it in 6th grade – though it was great that we had a holy day to recognize all the saints, even those who didn’t get their own special day, I figured they didn’t need my thoughts or prayers.  They had made it.  They were in the presence of God and in a perpetual state of bliss.  But those who were in Purgatory – well, they may have taken some consolation that they were on the path to Heaven, but it was tough going in the meantime.  They needed thoughts and prayers, and 6th grade me apparently needed to be thinking of those still on the rocky path.

And whenever All Souls hits (even when it’s a Saturday, like today), I cannot help but be back at my desk in Sr. Paschal’s class, being made aware of All Souls’ Day, one more time.

And when I came to Kansas City, and was looking for a Unitarian church, I took comfort that the church I would be attending in mid-town KC was called All Souls.  It seemed a good omen.  As it turns out, All Souls is a common name for Unitarian churches, probably the most common name for UU Churches that have names instead of a geographic designation (e.g. the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church which I currently attend).

I even took pains to join All Souls on the Sunday closest to All Souls’ Day, back in November 1995.

When I made a parting of ways from All Souls Church, some seven years or so ago, I decided to start posting in a blog I would call All Soulo.  The name was a reference to All Souls itself, but also to the fact that, religiously, for a time, I was now “solo,” without a clear religious home.  That is no longer the case, given that I am a member at Shawnee Mission UU Church, but there will always be for me a sense of solitariness.

From 2nd grade on, I was aware, sometimes painfully and terrifyingly aware [I was 7 after all] that the world I experienced would, in some ways, always be my world, and would not exactly match the world of any of my friends.  At some level, I would always be alone.  Over the years since 2nd grade, I’ve come to accept that existential loneliness.  At times, I even find it comforting.

Still, the loneliness I experienced did drive me, as a Catholic boy growing up, more into the arms of Mother Church, where I could be part of group, be part of a team.  Even on All Souls, when I became aware of those souls caught up in their pain and loneliness, and I tried to hold them in my heart, and mind, and soul, I got some sense of being together in the struggle.  Never fully together, never fully being at one with my fellows, my God, or the universe, there was still some solace to be taken from being part of the communion of saints, or rather, the communion of souls.

In popular culture, as a kid, I was drawn to those shows that featured a team or a group, or at least a pair of people working together.  My favorite TV show was Combat! (yes, it had an exclamation point, which looked like a bayonet), a show that focused on a squad of army infantryman in France during WWII. In comic books, I was drawn to titles like The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and the Justice League of America, which all focused on teams.

And, of course, I had, and still have, a strong positive feeling for unions, where workers band together to fight for better conditions, better wages, knowing that they are stronger together.

For me, I’ll always be on the solo-ensemble continuum.  I’ll always yearn to be part of a team, part of a group, and to help the group thrive, but that existential loneliness never goes away, though it doesn’t often loom over me.  In fact, that loneliness I feel may even help me be more aware of others in their loneliness cocoons. And it may give me a little edge when it comes to helping to build community.

And so, on this All Souls’ Day, I’m feeling a little lonely, though not particularly blue.

Maybe I’ll listen to Bob Franke’s “For Real” later.  It straddles that lonely/community divide rather nicely.  You can hear Mr. Franke sing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xqTWDSGe9U

Or you can listen to Lui Collins’ version, which is, perhaps, more beautiful, if no more real: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PJ-ZsIbxWQ


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