Unexpectedly Traditional

I’ve finally slept off the time change well enough to have the capacity to write again, so here is a slightly late reflection on All Saints Day, which I celebrated on Sunday night at a Celtic Evensong service at an Episcopal church.

If you’ve read my posts for very long, you’ll know that I’m not a huge fan of tradition. I don’t engage in traditional practices of spirituality with any regularity, I don’t like to observe holidays the same way from year to year, and I actually don’t even necessarily observe the same holidays from year to year, at least as far as the liturgical church calendar is concerned. This year, however, as I’m not really into Halloween, I decided to observe All Saints Day. A dose of liturgy is a nice way to break things up every now and again.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with All Saints Day, it is a holiday on the church calendar that commemorates, at least in Western observance, the Believers who have passed before us, both the “saints” that everyone knows, as well as family and loved ones, with whom many believe we have a mystic communion. The Evensong service involved a candle-lighting opportunity, during which every participant could go forward during music to light a candle in memory of someone that has passed away.

Now, as you might imagine, I generally take no interest in these sorts of ceremonial exercises. Its not that I dislike them in any way, its just that they have no meaning for me as a rule. For some reason, however, I chose to light a candle Sunday night, because both the liturgy and the priest’s reading of Buechner during the meditation guided my recollection to my grandmother, who passed earlier this year. I recall thinking as I lit the candle, “because you were a saint to me.”

To say that I was moved by the experience would be a slight understatement. Enter unscheduled mini-meltdown.

We can debate the theology of my statement later, but what struck me about Sunday night was the fact that a simple, ceremonial act assisted me in entering into the mourning process that has been sporadic at best since my grandmother’s death…a process with which I have experienced significant difficulty engaging in any sort of healthy manner. I didn’t predict that an observance of All Saints Day would take me there, would assist me in the spiritual healing from the loss of my grandmother. Briefly, however, there was a catharsis, a release of emotion that has been episodic at best since last winter. I think that’s part of what spiritual exercises are for, and I may just attend a liturgical observance of All Saint’s Day again next year, especially if I still am only managing unhealthy bursts of emotional release from my grandmother’s passing.

At the risk of engaging in ritual, that is.


  1. I understand hesitancy toward tradition, but I think when mourning, tradition might be a very healthy guide.

    Jewish ritual is particularly helpful (at least to me) in understanding the stages of grief, and instructing the mourners how to interact with loss, community, and a God who allows pain.

    I hope your All Saints’ Day experience was one that will continue to bless you.

  2. They certainly have a better grasp of the mourning process than we do. I’ve found since losing my grandmother that Western culture simply doesn’t do mourning well because we attempt to sanitize the experience of death, to ignore that its a part of our lives. Thus, when confronted with it in a way we can’t escape, we have no clue how to deal with the event. I’ve never appreciated how true that is until this last year.

    Thank you for your kind words.

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