As our calendar turns this week through Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, we are at least vaguely aware that this is the time to remember loved ones as well as strangers who have gone before us.
To highlight these days and these memories, I’m going to do two things this week, and I invite you to do so as well.
First, I’m going to take a walk in a cemetery – a slow, thoughtful walk, pausing to look at individual tombstones, and groups of tombstones that point to relationships among people deliberately buried together. A walk like this might take us to historic Mount Hope Cemetery, or to an old, apparently forgotten cemetery in the country or to a village cemetery. My immediate family members are buried in Lackawanna and Batavia. I doubt if I’ll get to either place this week, but walking through another cemetery will help me remember that my loved ones lived their lives as fully as possible, and now their remains are in a treasured place, like the one I’m walking through.
Ghost walks are popular around Halloween. This is not intended to be a ghost walk, but a tender walk of remembering people who lived as we do, with hopes and desires, frustrations and delights, sadness and joy. If you see a small pile of stones at a particular gravesite, take a closer look. What this pile of stones may represent is a practice borrowed from our Jewish brothers and sisters, for whom a stone placed at a gravesite indicates honor, connectedness, reverence for the ideals that moved that person in life.
The second “to do” of the week is to go to one or both lectures offered this week at Nazareth College as part of the Annual Shannon Lecture Series. This week, the speaker is Robert Ellsberg, the publisher of Orbis Books, internationally recognized for his extensive publications about the saints of our world. He includes in his books, figures as widely separated in time and religious orientation as Sadhu Sundar Singh (Indian Mystic), Rahab (Faithful Prostitute of the Book of Joshua), Agneta Chang (Maryknoll Sister and Martyr), St. Boniface (Missionary and Martyr) and Johann Sebastian Bach (Composer) to mention a few. Mr. Ellsberg will start with A Revolution of the Heart: From Dorothy Day to Pope Francis (Thursday, November 3 at 7 pm at the Schutts Center at Nazareth College) and will continue the next day with Saints and Prophets: Models for Today (Friday, November 4 at 1:30 pm in the Golisano Center.) To fill our minds with other people’s stories of faith is to give ourselves a new way of looking at our own lives. As Pope Francis told our Congress last September, “saints offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality.”
Both of these “to do’s” offer ways of looking outward at a time of year when the temptation is to hunker down and give up venturing “out there” – where people and situations which can expand our hearts, minds and souls.
~ Sister Joan Sobala