It is something about this time of year that quickens the pulse and gives way to rising expectations. We anticipate it’s arrival, autumn. Not so much the season itself, but of what it alludes to: a transitioning, a change.
When we’re young, our summers turn to fall and our play turns into schoolwork, but when we get older, our worldview changes, not to mention our physical selves, our bodies. As we get older, we find that we are not as “indestructible” as we once were; our reflexes are not as fast, though our perceptions of things become much sharper. The creak that we hear comes not from the screen door on the back porch, but from deep within our bones; it comes as a subtle signal that we are really finite after all, that it will take more than a little oil to lubricate the works. It comes with the sudden realization that we wish we could turn ourselves in for a newer model, only to understand otherwise: our natures do not work that way and furthermore, we weren’t made to be that way. Of all the lessons of life, that is perhaps the hardest to learn—or comprehend. It is a good thing that this is so; to learn such a lesson at a young age would make our lives intolerable.
So it is as the psalmist observes: to every age there is a season.
In the church’s liturgical calendar, there are seasons, too. For most of the year, we live in what is called “Ordinary Time,” a period between the great feasts of Easter and Christmas, our two spiritual bookends, as it were. In the meantime, we go about our lives as best we can, with hope and trust and faith. It is when we come to the end of the year, both the secular as well as the religious—and the changing seasons—we are led to a time we don’t always appreciate: a period of introspection and reflection.
This is the case when we come to the end of October and the beginning of November: we transition from a secular holiday with pagan origins to a religious commemoration of holy days where, for Christians, at least, we venerate God’s special ones and pray for God’s hopeful ones, the ones who—with the help of our prayers—also aspire to be those “special ones,” saints.
In a sense, these mid-fall days, Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, are the latter year’s equivalent of Mardi Gras, Lent and Easter. Halloween is a Mardi Gras for children: lavish costumes, parties and candy galore: everything sweet from chocolates to the ubiquitous candy corn.
But like Mardi Gras, Halloween is followed by days of purpose. Like Lent, All Souls Day—while meant for reflection and not a little soul-searching—is not meant to be an occasion just for sadness, loss or even fear, though it may sometimes be that. It is a time for reevaluation of ourselves, a time of making new resolutions way before we turn the calendar’s page. And like Easter, All Saints Day is a day of rejoicing, not just for those known and unknown saints, but for the fact in knowing that we, too, are meant to be like that—to really be that—despite our faults and foibles.
The church is really wise to have these two days in close proximity; we need these days as a reminder to slow down our hectic existence for even a little while, to remember what our purpose is and what we were meant to be. (Though I must say, as a youngster, I felt that All Souls Day should have been designated as the Holy Day of Obligation, not All Saints Day. My reasoning was that the saints were “safely in,” while the rest of us were waiting and working on our turn, and we needed all the help we could get, even by a “designated” day! So much for the junior theologian…)
These days are put before us to so we can put aside our class distinctions and categorizations. In these days, it does not matter what we are but it does matter who we are. Before God, it does not matter whether we are rich or poor, famous or unknown, brilliant or simpleminded, whether or not we belong to the right clique. It does not matter to God whether one may be a pope or a president ruminating over delicate matters, or some resplendent prelate adorned in rich silk, making solemn pronouncements, or a lowly brother or sister religious, dressed in homespun, working without public or private recognition, or a scientist or researcher in a laboratory working toward a major medical breakthrough or a janitor or a street sweeper cleaning up unthinking messes left behind by the absentminded masses. What matters is that we were made by God, and he made us for things better than we think—or know.
Perhaps that is the meaning of these days: that God is trying to impart a lesson to each of us that we really need to think about what we were made for. Of all the lessons we have to learn in this life, this might be the hardest to appreciate or undertake. After all, we are finite beings and our reason and understanding can only take in so much. And being finite beings, even the best of us can only comprehend so much infinity.
There is much to think about as we see the brightly colored leaves fall around us; and maybe those very leaves are the perfect metaphor for these very days. Our lives and our days are changing in ways we do not know. But we vaguely know that though it can sometimes be painful and thus make us uneasy; but change brought about through introspection and reflection can be a beautiful and hopeful thing, and that it can be as sweet as the chocolates and candy corn we once eagerly pined for in childhood and, if accepted in the right spirit, deeply appreciated.