2011 October 30Settingthe Tablegiven at First Parish in Malden,Unitarian Universalist, Malden, Massachusettsby the Rev. Joanne Giannino
Doesanybody know what holiday we celebrate today? Yes, all souls/allsaints/Halloween/Day of the Dead, that’s right. What are some of your costumestoday? Any skeletons? Ghosts? Did you know that these holidays have their rootsin ancient human practices of remembering those who have died and celebratingthe sacred cycle of life? People, for all times, it seems have been curious,even fearful, of death, and have found ways to honor it, acknowledge it, acceptit, and in the process honor and maintain the memory and gifts of their belovedones, those who become our ancestors, become our saints.
Indifferent cultures the time of year varies depending on their own traditions.In our part of the world, we do our remembering in the fall. Can you think ofwhy? The leaves are falling, and dying, composting the earth, the trees goingto sleep, the flowers withering, animals hibernating; and we also know that inthe spring the trees come back to life: we seem then to understand (withinourselves and the very cells of our own bodies) the cycle: death, life, againand again.
Forseveral years after my father, Joe Giannino, died, in the autumn, I would offera Halloween dinner at my house. I would invite family members, my mother,sister, her children, and my husband’s parents. My children and I woulddecorate the house with all that nature offers at this time of year:
Colorfulleaves dropping from the trees, returning to the earth, so that the tree couldsleep for the winter, and re-awaken in spring with new leaves
Pumpkinsharvested from fields of plenty, carved with eyes and noses and lips, lit by acandle’s glow
Skullsand skeletons, remnants of the old days when worshippers would play with deathas a way to acknowledge the cycle of life in which those they loved would die,and even someday themselves
Andthere would be flowers, autumn flowers that seem to arrive and thrive againstall odds, amidst the frosty mornings, and long dark nights: Marigolds,Chrysanthemums, and Sedum.
Wewould set the places for all who attended with our finest dish ware, cottonnapkins (not paper), candles, and one additional plate, for the guests who wereno longer with us: my dad, my mother’s mother and dad, my grandparents, myhusband’s grandmother, his mother’s mother, and his father’s parents. And wewould eat some of their favorite foods. One thing my Dad always enjoyed was apomegranate. He called them Italian apples and he taught us to take out all theseeds, put them in a bowl, and eat them by the handful instead of one at a time!
Wedid this to acknowledge that we were indeed missing them, these who loved us somuch, and whom we loved in return. We set a place for them because though theyhad died, they were still very much with us. With us still because of the timewe had spent together. With us still because of what they had taught us. My Dadtaught me by his very presence not so much in words to enjoy life in simplethings: in getting a good deal on a pork chops at the market, in a day off fromwork, in a morning fishing for bass at a favorite pond, and in spending timewith family on Saturday mornings and holidays. These were the ways he sharedhis love of life and his love of us.
Canyou remember, any of you, a favorite food of a loved one who is now passedaway…can you remember something that they taught you either in words oractions, that has stayed with you even though the person is not physicallypresent? Something of their love for you?
Todaywe celebrate the day of All Souls and All Saints. We remember those who haveloved us and whom we have loved in return. Family, friends, church members,neighbor all.
Ihope today you will take some time to remember those you have loved. To feeltheir presence around you still. To remember the times you spent together. To rememberwhat they taught you. Perhaps to eat one of their favorite foods, or enjoy anactivity that he or she enjoyed. Mostly, recall in your heart the love thatsurrounds you still and always. That love will always remain.
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