Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints: What does it mean?

I am presently in Mexico and it is All Saints Day.  It is a day when we remember those who were great ones who went before us in the faith.  It is a nice day and on Sunday we will remember those who have died in the past year.  But what does it mean here?

All Saints is merely the prelude to tomorrow-- the Day of the Dead--All Soul's day on some calendars.  But it is so much more as I wander through the streets.  Last night there were children with costumes roaming about but many of them with skull make-up on.  The princesses were in black, there were little pumpkins, but overwhelmingly there were skull faces on children and a preponderance of marigolds.  Christianity and deeper and more profound theological issues show in this Dia del Muertos.

Earlier in the week we had attended the great Anthropological Museum in Mexico City.  It is truly one of the great museums of the world.  From the earliest times, Mexican people have had this fascination with the dead.  It is deeply imbedded in the culture.  Before the Aztecs, the Toltecs, the Mayan have been objects d'arte with skeletons and skulls that have been prized by these people.  And while it is all around me and while I have asked many, I am still bewildered by the symbolism of this day.

Tomorrow we will go with friends of friends to the grave yards to have a picnic and to take food for those who are buried there.  It is a way of connecting with those who have gone before.  The marigolds are often stripped of their blossoms and the bright gold color are signs for the dead to return.  Each company in town have their own displays and altars on the streets of the city.  And in Mexico City there is a huge display in the National Mall (Zocalo).  It also is a holiday when people return to their home towns and their families.  It is like a huge one day memorial day but a lot more fun.

This all brings me back to that first question:  What does it mean when we memorialize those who have died--those who we think are saints and those we don't?  How DO we remember?  Is it with some sober mass or with some costumes or with a real understanding that there is a small line between the living and the dead?

Do you have visits from those who have 'passed over'?  Do the memories of those who are no longer with us paralyze us with fear or melt into wonderful memories?  Have we in the US become so adept at avoiding Death that we don't ever think about it and consequently never really understand our relationship with the Holy?  It is clear that the Mexican people have grappled with the issues for eons.  And they celebrate Death just as fully as they celebrate life:  with noise, music, family, food and fun.  And as far as I am concerned, it is a helluva way to live.

[The photograph is by one of my companions here, Libby Hedrick]

1 comment:

Gus said...

Once in a while, I have a private smirk at my priest when he makes reference to "those whom we do not see for a time," because sometimes, I do see them. And a couple of times, we've made new memories.