“We Remember”

Where I come from, in Southern California, this weekend is a weekend of huge preparation. It actually began weeks ago–millions of Mexican-Americans, right now, building altars, decorating their dearly departed’s graves, hanging lights, and adorning their communities, streets and center squares, with flowers and food and vibrant color. As a child, it was my favorite time of year. Because the city, Los Angeles, was transformed into a place of indescribable beauty. This was, of course, for Dia de Las Muertos, The Day of the Dead, which aligns itself with the Catholic and Christian liturgical calendar–All Souls Day or All Saints Day. This year it begins on November 1st–this Tuesday–and ends on the 2nd. All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, Samhain for pagans, marks the night before these days of remembrance and honoring begin. A night, they say, where the veil between life and death is at its thinnest.

For Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, this is not a solemn holiday, but rather a day of great celebration. And this is interesting to me. ‘Celebration’ and ‘Remembrance.’ I remember as a young girl being shocked when Dia de Las Muertos was finally explained to me. Watching these communities prepare and feast and celebrate–hearing their music and dancing and laughing all night long in the neighborhood we lived in–this news felt like cognitive dissonance. I couldn’t understand how those raucous street parties had anything to do with mourning.

Of course, for those of us who have known and experienced great loss and grief (this is all of us, in some way or another) we know the great and beguiling, inexplicable wonder that plants itself right in the center of grief and memory. For there, amid the heartbreak, sits…what? A strange kind of beauty. And how can this be? You know what I am talking about, I am certain you do. Memorializing and remembrance unveils an often hidden, unspoken truth that we are tangled up in; something precious and wonderful: life made meaningful by our capacity to love. That’s my best attempt at trying to articulate this thing of beauty that is shared grief and remembrance. That’s my best attempt–life made meaningful by our capacity to love–to understand how celebration could possibly have a seat at the table.

The late UU minister Rev. Forrest Church says it this way: “Love and death are allies. When a loved one dies, the greater the pain, the greater the love’s proof. Such grief is a sacrament. Sacraments bring us together. The measure of our grief testifies to the power of our love.”

And love, yes, is often expressed through open lamentation, or in mourning clothes. Silent processions. But love is also expressed in technicolor, through song and dance and food. Shared laughter. Joy even. We talked about that last week. Memorial services so often hold all of this, don’t they?

To remember, to speak names and build things of beauty–what we did here today, in this magnificent space–what I hope you will carry forward and build for yourselves at home now too, this opens our hearts and souls to what is most urgent, and worthy of celebration: the deep encounter with this essential experience of being human. This, by the way, captures the heart of the Day of the Dead celebrations: a celebration of this essential experience of being human and alive; and the celebration of the ancestors’, the dearly departed’s, experience of being human and being kept alive through remembrance.

By doing this, by finding meaningful rituals and days during the year that mark thinning veils and making them beautiful and rich in vibrancy and honoring together–by doing this we not only engage in remembering, keeping our loved ones’ stories and spirits alive and knowing deeply that the thread that connects us to those who have passed is never severed, but we also remember how to better live ourselves. That is the power of these kinds of rituals. We remember who we are. We remember where we belong, and to whom we belong to. We remember that which is most sacred and mysterious. Some of us remember about God.  For so often, the face of God is depicted, simply, as the face of love. To love another person is to see the face of God…That’s Jean Val Jean from Les Miserables. Victor Hugo.

I pray that we can consider some of this over the coming days. I pray that you can make some time for this amid all the hustle and bustle and producing and doing and costume sewing and candy buying. Consider what deep encounter All Souls Day, All Hallows Eve, might offer you, or what it offered your ancient ancestors–what rituals did they partake in when the veil was at its most thin. Or consider what our Universalist faith teaches us about this: that we are all part of a great and abiding Love, that will never, never, never let us go. Even in death.

I also pray that you will take good care of yourself, particularly those of you whose grief is fresh or whose soul is tender these days. Consider this week to be an invitation towards care and gentleness.

I offer you this closing blessing for All Souls Day, may its words hold and honor you and yours these coming days:

ALL HALLOWS BLESSING, by Jan Richardson

Who live
in the spaces between
our breathing
in the corner
of our vision
in the hollows
of our bones
in the chambers
of our heart:
nowhere can they
be touched
yet still
how they move us,
how they move
in us,
made from the
tissue of memory
like the veil
between the worlds
that stirs at
the merest breath
this night
and then is
at rest.

Yet still
how they move us,
how they move
in us!

To this I say Amen and let us not forget. We remember.

Won’t you now rise in body and spirit and sing with me this hymn of thanksgiving for the preciousness of love and life: Hymn #52 In Sweet Fields of Autumn

Reverend Sophia Lyons
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Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.