I know All Saints was Saturday, but I just listened to the On Being podcast with Marie Howe this week, which….WOW…may be the best podcast I’ve ever heard. I so appreciate Krista Tippett holding space for these conversations about the holy, and boy did that become thin, holy space during that interview. I could probably blog about fifteen kazillion things that sparked in my mind as I listened, but I want to share with you the one that just resonated with me down to my toes today as I was running and listening. Marie Howe, if you didn’t know (which I did not–and now all 3 of her books are on my Christmas list with huge asterisks), is the New York State poet laureate and has taught at Sarah Lawrence. She is talking about her brother, John, who died of AIDS:
The unendurable happens. You know, people we love and can’t live without are going to die. We’re going to die…
I did know that when John died I thought, OK, I can either just let my heart crack open or closed…The good news about open is, you know, I turned around and there were, of course, a billion other people who lived on this earth who have lost the person they’ve loved so much. And there they all were! And it was so great to be in their company, you know?
That’s such a beautiful accidental description of All Saints Day, isn’t it? Isn’t that the very reality we try to bear witness to when we name the ones we’ve lost and ring bells and hold open moments of silence and gather together to grieve? This past week at Journey, we gathered around some of our dear friends who have lost parents and a grandparent, and we just put our hands on them and were mostly silent and we tried to offer up a few meager words toward this huge LOVE we feel toward them even when we cannot for the life of us figure out how to help them in their grief. We are just such poor souls, hovering around this awe-filled anxiety of life and death, and we are so often rendered speechless. In those moments of silence, we just pray grace and peace; we just hope that even in our complete inability to make anything better or easier, we can simply be present to those hard edges of life long enough for our dear, dear friends to know we are with them, even if we are fools.
All Saints Day is a time to remember the people of faith who have gone before us, and, as I wrote on Monday, to remember the great mystery that Christ holds us together in community with even those who have gone before us.
But All Saints is also a time to acknowledge with open eyes the empty places of loss in our hearts and around our dinner tables. And that is so, so important for our souls. All Saints is the heart-wrenching realization that we are, or will soon find ourselves, in the middle of a grief that feels unendurable, and if your heart cracks open rather than closed in that moment, by some grace upon grace, what you find is that you are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses to your own grief, to the grief that accompanies all love in this life. If we can, in those moments of such deep pain, turn around long enough to see that we are surrounded by others who have felt this, who have endured the unendurable, well…as Marie said, “It was so great to be in their company, you know?”
May all who experience grief today feel the comfort of presence- of God’s, and of the great cloud of witnesses who, in some mysterious way, make room for us to find a way forward again.