Secret Senses

11-03-2015 | Lindsay

We had our second annual Rolling Ridge "All Saints Eve/Halloween-Day of the Dead-All Souls celebration" on October 31, 2015. The day went like this. We gathered Saturday afternoon for a time of preparation. Last year this included the making of sugar skulls and lacey cutouts; or this year, we made creatures from the gifts of the forest: persimmons, twigs, tupelo leaves. Next we dressed the altar with pictures of loved ones passed on, things they loved and held, and their favorite treats. We spent a little time telling stories, sharing bittersweet memories. Then we put on our wild selves dressed in all manner of costumes and processed from house to house. At each house there were treats for the children and much laughter and the taking of pictures. It ended with a party by the altar featuring a smorgasbord of dishes relished by the honored dead.

Here is the reflection given to begin our time around the altar:

As Joy likes to point out, we are in a thin time, poised between equinox and solstice. It is a stretch during which some cultures and religions pause to honor and remember loved ones no longer living and the ancestors on whose shoulders we stand. In Christian tradition there is All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The ancient Celtic observance at this time of year is called Samhain, which some point to as the origin of Halloween. In Mexico, the holiday is the Day of the Dead, or Los Dias de los Muertos, which itself derives from an Aztec festival celebrated 3,000 years ago.

This is the second annual Rolling Ridge"All Saints Eve/Halloween Day of the Dead-All Souls Celebration." I was not able to join you for the first one, though I was not far away in either location or spirit. I was at Dayspring and remembering an All Souls story, which happened in another thin time, on a clear and cold New Year's Eve. That night, a few of us were gathered in the Meditation Shelter, the benches drawn into a circle, our faces aglow with the light from the fire in the woodstove and the dozens of candles on the ledges all around.

In the quiet, I was thinking about the communion of saints. By communion I meant connection and by saints I meant people. The saints are the people, the ones to whom we are connected by heart, transcending all the apparent boundaries of the temporal world. As I looked round the circle that night, at all those beloved faces of my friends who had chosen to walk through the cold and the dark to drink in the mystery and the holiness of the hour, I saw among and behind, and above, and around them all those other saints, those loved ones, those honored and beloved ancestors, to whom we are all, still and forever, related.

Now to some, this sounds like a lot of woo woo; and it's probably why we giggle a bit nervously right around Halloween, and glance at one another sideways. And if one is looking at existence through eyes and ears alone, then indeed, this is woo woo-- a colossal cosmic trick. But those who call it that are not aware of the"hundred secret senses."

Amy Tan wrote a novel with that title, The Hundred Secret Senses. Its protagonist, Olivia Bishop, is a very secular and pragmatic Chinese American photographer. She has a complicated relationship with her wholly Chinese and very mystically minded half-sister, Kwan, who Olivia says, with exasperation,"believes she has Yin eyes. She sees those who have died and dwell in the world of Yin." By the end of the story, however, Olivia's frustration with Kwan has evaporated:

I think Kwan intended to show me the world is not a place but the vastness of the soul. And the soul is nothing more than love, limitless, endless, all that moves us toward knowing what is true. I once thought love was supposed to be nothing but bliss. I now know it is also worry and grief, hope and trust. And believing in ghosts—that's believing that love never dies. If people we love die, then they are lost only to our ordinary senses. If we remember, we can find them anytime with our hundred secret senses.

In the end, that's what these observances and holy days boil down to: love never dies. That is certainly the take away of the Christian story as I understand it, and it's the brightly obvious point of the Day of the Dead as we ready the house and prepare to feast with our dead loved ones. So hurray for our secret senses, for thin times, for love, ghosts, and woo woo…let the celebration begin.