I just prayed the evening office using the propers for the Eve of All Saints, and was a teary wreck by the end. Afterward, someone asked me why. I’d like to explain what All Saints means for me, but I’m not sure I can. May the Lord give me aid.
Before my aunt Susan (not her real name) died a few years ago, I had only ever been in her house two or three times, even though she lived quite close to where I grew up. She struggled with paranoid-schizophrenia for all of her adult life, and I gather that much of her life was quite difficult and lonely. It would be a lonely and isolating thing to see threats in all directions. Her house was something of a haunted fortress. The yard was overgrown, and the blinds were always drawn. The few times I went inside, it was a mess. There were pieces of paper everywhere on which she had written things she had deemed important, vital even. She once had my father search her house for a seemingly random piece of paper and bring it to her when she was hospitalized. None of these papers meant anything to anyone else. She would come and visit us, but we never went inside her house except when necessary for some urgent reason.
I liked Susan, but her house was scary for me. It was as though she spent her life locked in this small place, albeit one of her own devising. It seemed cut off from the world. It was as though her whole life was something that couldn’t be understood, that might be dangerous, and therefore had to be locked away. Or perhaps she thought the world couldn’t be understood, might be dangerous, and had to be locked out. Either way, there was fear and isolation.
As a child, I was told that Susan was crazy. She had to be institutionalized more than once. She was probably fine, but could be dangerous. I should just leave her alone and not worry about her. And that’s mostly what I did. As a young adult, I began to understand that my family’s way of avoiding my aunt and her illness was very broken. But her health took a sudden turn for the worse, and she died fairly suddenly a few years ago. I lived in Chicago by then. I never came to visit her, and I don’t think there was even a funeral.
Years later (last year, in fact), I shared with one of my priests how guilty I felt about the way she lived and died, and how terrifying I still found the memory of her house and the isolation it symbolized for me. My priest is a wise woman, and noted that the Feast of All Saints was approaching. Perhaps I might find during that time when “the veil is thin” that Susan still had something to say to me, or I to her.
So I went down into the basement chapel at Brent House, and asked God if anyone wanted to say anything to me. In the dark when nobody is there, that chapel can feel a bit creepy, like Susan’s house, but it is not a place of fear for me. It is one of my favorite places on earth, a place where God is near. No one in that chapel is ever alone. The body and blood of Christ are there, of course. And all the host of heaven is there. And then someone said this:
“Who are you, Kyle, to say that I lived or died alone? Who are you to say that anybody died alone? This room is full! Who are you to say my house wasn’t?”
That was all in my head, of course. But why should that make it any less real?
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
My favorite theologian calls the Holy Spirit a bond, a vinculum caritatis. The Holy Spirit is the bond of love of the Father and the Son. It* is the bond within the Trinity, and the bond between the Trinity and us. Bonds or binding can be something that imprisons, but also something that heals. There is a bond of marriage and bond of friendship. And we bind up wounds.
Some wounds, it seems, do not end with death. But neither does God’s healing bond. Just as God is the bond among all those who live and love, and the bond of all those saints and angels who see God’s face in the light, so God is also the bond between the living and the dead. “For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.”** Is there any brokenness that God cannot bind up? God’s very self is sufficient to bind up every wound. In fact, God has already put all broken things back together by reconciling all things to herself in Jesus. We only live and pray for the day when that which is already real will be visible, that which we now see “through a glass, darkly.”
Around the Feast of All Saints, the glass is less dark than on other days. The veil is thin. When I pray the prayers and sing the songs, I know that God and all those made in the image of God pray with me and for me, as we are all together healed in that healing bond of love. The brokenness can feel more broken, even as it is already made part of the wholeness that is and is to come.
Nothing and no one is outside of that wholeness. And no one lives or dies alone.
For all the saints who from their labors rest, and especially for my departed aunts, thanks be to God.
*I believe that any gender can be used for all three Persons of the Trinity
**William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude (yes, the epigraph to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
[Edited: Typos fixed]