Articles, Essays & Sermons

Precious memories

An All Saints Day meditation

by Ken Sehested

Like most, my early memories of holiday festivities are varied and (mostly) pleasant. But Halloween stands out, with the most distinct memories, since it involved an evening of roaming (without adult supervision) in homemade costumes throughout the small town where I lived, collecting sweet treats in decorated paper bags.

Then came the much-anticipated sorting of the evening’s haul: the keepers (the really good stuff), the give-aways, everything else for trading with friends, which could go on for a week or more.

In my deep-water baptist territory, All Saints Day—following "All Hallows Eve," or Halloween—was never mentioned, much less observed. We didn’t believe in saints. Though we did have Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon, namesakes of bi-annual mission offerings—a surprisingly feminine pantheon for a body with severely circumscribed leadership roles for women.

I now believe there is no observance in the liturgical year in greater need of recovery than All Saints Day. In turbulent times and turgid circumstances, we need the sustenance of resilient memory.

Remembrance of those gone before us provides the buoyancy to continue the struggle despite bleak prospects. Such stories perform vivid reminders that (a) we are not the first to encounter hard times and (b) the assurance that sustenance (beyond our own ingenuity) will be provided.

Even more: Telling stories of faithful witness—with faces and names and details—is far and away the most effective means of catching courage and transmitting hope. We need a horizon beyond market reports, electoral predictions, and the cacophony of broken-hearted headlines.

The work of imperial powers over a conquered people always begins with the suppression of indigenous language and, thereby, the people’s ancestral stories.

Jesus’ primary mode of communication was stories—not because he was pre-modern or philosophically illiterate, but because he knew stories have an animating power that propositions and apologetics lack. It’s still true.

Resilient communities are storied communities who do the work of hallowing, of naming and memorializing its redemptive moments and characters—filled with faces and names and details—and connecting such memory with that of the Beloved’s Name and presence.

The preamble to the Ten Commandments required the injunction to memory: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). Jesus’ model prayer began with the hallowing of God’s name, thereby unleashing the consecrating power to invoke the Blessed One’s reign over creation: “your will be done on earth” (Matthew 6:10).

Hallowing is the harbinger of death’s demise amid joy’s full embrace. Hallowing is the asset that sustains us, wounded but poised and resolute, in the face of history’s brutal affront.

“Precious memories,” as the old gospel tune says, are “unseen angels / Sent from somewhere to my soul / How they linger, ever near me / And the sacred scenes unfold.”

May the poise of the saints—however famous or inconspicuous—be yours.

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Here are several resources for observing All Saints Day.

• “All Saints Day,” a litany for worship

• “All Saints: Call to worship and pastoral prayer,” Nancy Hastings Sehested

• “Hallowed Week: A call to worship for All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints Day,” Abigail Hastings

• “Quotes about saints: A collection

• “Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero: Canonizing El Salvador’s beloved archbishop,” an essay

• “For All the Saints: New lyrics for an old hymn

ALSO:

• For a well-written account of the ancient history of Halloween and All Saints Day, see “Halloween 2019” from history.com

• Want to expand your personal All Saints Day imagination? Visit Dan Buttry’s “Global Peace Warriors” blog for brief profiles of peace-wagers and justice-seekers from every age, every part of the world, and of every religious tradition.

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org