We were hiking with our niece and nephew when I found this sign: Standing Dead Tree. “Standing dead trees…are an essential part of a forest habitat.” Life grows in that which has died, a new home is made out of something that was once living. This is a form of resurrection, I think. Life, new life, coming from of that which looks dead.
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, followed the next day by the Feast of All Souls. Every year I am surprised by how much I love these two days. These are days that are at once profoundly Church (capital C) oriented and yet also very personal. On All Saints we remember the Saints, Capital S. My mind goes to Magdalene and her steadfast witness to both the cross and the resurrection. My heart goes to Peter his constant screw ups, how he’d get it right and then turn around and miss the point entirely and how delightfully hopeful it is that block-head Peter is the one whom Jesus looks at and says feed my sheep and build my church. The list is bountiful. So many Saints, still standing even if no longer on this earth, still giving life to us, still teaching, as the hymn goes, who “feebly struggle, they in glory shine.”
My favorite day, though, is All Souls, when we remember our own beloved dead. Every year I think of Victor, a man I never met, but who had such a profound impact on my mother’s life. Victor and my mama met in her acting days. He went on to become a priest in the Episcopal Church. I imagine, in some small and some larger ways, he is one of the reasons why my mama ended up bringing her new baby through the doors of the Episcopal Church. Victor is always one of my beloved dead, because, although I never met him, he helped form me, my faith and my life.
On All Souls I remember my grandparents, my aunt Kay, and countless others, the list too long to post here, taking a moment to thank them, to remember them, to think about what part of them lives on in me, how, like that Standing Dead Tree, life continues, new and different, alive and vibrant. This year, of course, I will add my friend Elizabeth’s father, Dev, and my own beloved father to that list–the men who bookended our summer, the men who, in a strange way, bind an old friendship even closer, the men who, daily, are missed by so many. All Souls is about our beloved dead, our saints. We all have them. They are the ones who taught us and loved us and formed us into the people we are still becoming. We remember them, and entrust them anew, to God’s good and constant love and care. And we get glimpses of them, even though they are gone, because they remain an essential part of our habitat, giving us life, even now.