Opposites Mixed in the Middle
All Saints and All Souls
As you have noticed we are keeping All Saints and All Souls and separate services. The reason I do this is because both deserve space and they are very different celebrations. All Saints is a Festival Day in the Church. I like to think of them as liturgical parties - no balloons, maybe cake after the service if anyone wants to - but celebration through and through.
I can see there is an argument for adding in All Souls but I really feel it deserves a space of its own. This is especially because those who have lost loved ones and want to remember them might want a quieter space to pray and grieve.
I always feel that when we combine the two it is just like going to a party when you feel horrid and you end up sitting by yourself in a corner. Having a space where it is alright to cry is very important. Crying in Church is always OK but most people feel embarrassed of awkward and leave if they get upset in a main Sunday service.
The idea of combining things is a modern one. It is the same sort of idea as reading the whole Passion on Palm Sunday. This is a great idea as an introduction to the week but what it often does is give the impression that the great celebrations of Holy Week are optional extras for the extra-pious - which they are not!
Church should be a place where we are our whole selves. We should be creating a space for people to be who they are and where they are on any given day. This means giving each other permission not to be OK. It also means allowing each other space just to be not OK. This is profoundly counter-cultural in the South. When we are asked how we are, we all say fine. Our Christian community is a place where we need to learn to answer that question honestly and openly.
I am not talking about dumping all our emotional baggage all over everyone. When someone asks how you are, perhaps just be honest. If you ask someone how they are and they say not great, be prepared to listen to the answer - but don’t push for it. In other words, if you ask how someone is, make it a real question which might have a real, and not so good, answer.
This is a small Church and we often know what is going on with each other. If someone is having a hard time and is reluctant to come to Church, offer to sit with them. That way, if they are upset you can act as a buffer against them and too many questions from people.
I know this is a hard thing to think about but I really want everyone to be comfortable with hard emotions in Church. We do hurt, we do get angry, we don’t understand why. Having services which offer a clear space for these feelings like All Souls is important. But we should not leave it there.
It is easier to avoid grief and pain in others, for that matter in ourselves. Don’t. It is a lost opportunity for all of us to grow in faith. When I ask people how they are when I know they are feeling terrible I make sure I am looking at them and paying attention. I make sure I have time to listen to the answer and if they hesitate because they are not OK, I might even interject - not OK, right? If I don’t ask you how you are it is probably because I am not in a place to stop and listen to how you are, although these Southern habits are wearing off on me!
Let’s all pay attention to asking questions and whether we are ready for the actual answers. Let’s be brave enough to say, “Not perfect,” or “so, so” or “have been better”, or, even, something stronger which can be written with *!!#!! or similar.
I am not trying to overturn culture - but as I think about All Saints and All Souls I realize that complexity of emotion and how difficult it can be to hold opposites in tension in a community. All I am saying is let’s try. I know some of you are hurting too much to face coming to Church, that is OK, it is normal, things take time and, in the case of tragedy, will never get back to the way they were, but it can get to be an OK different.
Enjoy All Saints, give yourself space for All Souls. You are welcome to comment on the post or talk to me in person. Be your wonderful selves but, just occasionally, with some people, pause a little longer.