Hallowed Halls: An All Saints Day Reflection
There are many things I love about my job. There are many aspects of my job for which I am grateful that God helps me to do well. There is no place and part of my job where I feel more fully enveloped in my call, and the holiness of it, than sitting with a family to plan a funeral. It is the most holy and inspiring work I do… I tell myself, metaphorically, to take off my shoes and to “tread” lightly but surely upon these hallowed halls of a person’s most intimate and treasured relationships. We talk of their history, what made them laugh and what left them in tears… and the treasured threads of their life now seemingly torn from our lives.
Orson Scott Card’s most famous book is Ender’s Game. A sci-fi fantasy novel used by military schools to talk about tactics and leadership. The figure of Ender (the main character) is controversial and includes quite a bit of material with which to talk about the ethics of leadership… military engagements… even personal relationships. All that leads us to the better of the books, the sequel to Ender’s Game: The Speaker for the Dead. The penance Ender assigns himself from the events of the first book led him to the role of listening to the community of the dead and learning through those listening sessions who that person really was at the core of their being. He then sums that up as he speaks to all the loved ones, friends, acquaintances – the whole of the community – on behalf of the recently deceased… he is the “Speaker for the Dead” with an aim towards truth and justice and maybe even love. He does it because he once killed that which he did not know or understand… and the guilt of that makes him commit to tell others’ stories when they too are misunderstood.
I give you that synopsis because I feel a kinship with Ender in that task of being something of a speaker for the dead. It is why my most treasured moments in my work is sitting with family and friends and hearing the stories of their recently departed loved one. Not simply the good stories – but hearing of that person in all their complications, all their faults, all their gifts… all their realness. And capturing in those stories a testimony of who they were before God and their neighbors. It is holy work. It is work that I think also makes me understand the world in a kinder, more loving, and more just way. Like Ender.
And so this Sunday, when we celebrate All Saints Day in worship we will read the names of all those in our community who died in the last year. We will read and speak their name at the Communion Table… we will ring a bell for each name. We will let the toll of that bell fall about our ears pregnant with the whole of who that person was… and while we will not have the time to tell their stories –their stories will ring in our ears and echo in our hearts through the tolling and we glimpse for a moment the sense to which the Sanctuary in which we toll and tell such stories is made holy by thousands of lives that have walk there, testimonies of time and energy to promote abundant life, guidance and love given to curate a space of belonging and repair, and that we carry on the legacy of all those saints with fear and trembling… to do for others what they have done for us. We shall walk hallowed halls with hope and appreciation that we do not walk alone.
It is holy, and it is so very good.