The theology behind these feasts centers around being a resurrection people, believing that in his dying and resurrection Jesus Christ trampled down death and the grave, that when loved ones die life is, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, “changed and not ended.” This is founded in the common Christian hope that we will see our loved ones again.
I wonder who your saints are, the ones you love but see no longer, the ones who have passed on to something else. My grandma is one of mine. She was a very conservative Christian who lived a very progressive life. She welcomed anyone and everyone into her home and her heart.
My grandma loved to play the piano but also suffered insomnia. She would get up in the small hours of the early morning and end up in the living room at the piano. I remember visiting as a little girl and sitting in the hallway outside the living room with my nightgown wrapped around my knees to keep my legs warm. I would sit and listen to her sing to herself as she played.
I like to think that I’ve inherited my ability to sing as prayer from her. My family can tell my mood, where my heart is, from the songs I sing while I’m washing the dishes and staring out at, but not seeing, the view from the kitchen window. I sing “I come to the garden alone,” or “Softly and tenderly when my heart is heavy.” I sing “Come thou fount of every blessing” or classical choral pieces with challenging soprano lines when I’m happy. I’ve picked up pieces in Spanish and Latin, and those get tossed into whatever sort of prayer soup I’m making; one of supplication or one of thanksgiving.
My friend Stefanie was another saint. I attended her funeral 10 years ago this year, just weeks away from giving birth to my youngest daughter.
I was new to Grand Haven when I first met her and in a much larger school than my previous one. To say the least, I was pretty anxious about my first day of seventh grade. I opened the door and was met by Stef in a white T-shirt and jeans, holding out her hand and smiling at me. She said, “Hi, my name is Stefanie and I have cystic fibrosis. Are you new here?”
Thus was born a friendship with one of the kindest people I have ever known. No matter the pain she was in, Stef had a warm smile for everyone she met.
There are many others, more grandparents, a very funny guy named Andy; all people who had an impact on my life.
I write about our being branches on the Christianity tree because I truly do believe that we’re all coming at this thing in different ways, but that we have more in common than what separates us. I believe that is true of all humanity, that we have a commonality that cannot be erased by our politics or our dogma. If we’re doing this human thing right, we should all support the dignity of every person, opportunities for all to live lives that matter. We should all remember those who have died, because those people mattered and shaped us into who we are today. We honor their memories in the way we choose to live.
This weekend will be build an ofrenda, an altar. It will contain photos of loved ones and mementos, candles and brightly decorated sugar skulls. We will read off their names and weep once more for all we have lost while being on the strange precipice of joy for the fact that we knew these people at all. We will paint our faces into skulls and sing old hymns and enjoy pan dulce and doughnuts as we gather as a community to remember.
I hope you remember your loved ones, too. I hope you remember that we have more in common than we have in dispute. I hope we remember “todos somos calaveras” (we are all skeletons). We are all just people who want to be loved and accepted. Only by coming together in our fraternity of human-ness can we begin to tackle the challenges of our world. Let’s not believe the lies we’re told about who is in and who is out. Let’s not listen anymore to the people in power who say we cannot make a world where every child is valued, elderly person cared for, where the dignity of work and a decent living is not extended to all.
We may all be skeletons, but you and I have our flesh and our wit and our hearts. We can welcome people like my conservative grandma and befriend the lonely and the lost, and it costs us nothing we would end up needing anyway.
We can live lives that honor our dead; it just takes work is all. It just takes giving up what we’ve been told we want, turning off the noise of division and fear.
May your loved ones and mine, all the blessed souls and saints, rest in peace and rise in glory.
— By Alicia Hager, Tribune community columnist