This article was originally published in the San Marino Tribune on November 6th, 2015.
It has become our custom at St. Edmund’s to set up a Dia de Los Muertos Altar at the entrance to church the Sunday before the All Saints’ Triduum of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. The lively cultural fusion that comes to us as gift and birth-right in Southern California displays on that colorful Altar of Memory. Parishioners bring all sorts of mementos in commemoration of departed beloveds: grandfather’s tobacco pipe, auntie’s knitting needles, baby shoes, and an intriguing array of photos; some sepia-tone, some black and white, and others in Shutterfly color. It can’t be long before i-Pads with rotating collages rest alongside the candles and sugar-skulls during those two weeks!
Autumn is the right season to take note of the many transitions that mark the human course, and it is good to indwell the holy melancholy of which Halloween gives us a secular echo; a defiant glad-time in the midst of the sadness that is part of the human weave. In the playful fun of costumes and haunted houses and trips to the cemetery we push back against despair, and affirm intimations of a deeper hope.
Until recently, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan sold more copies annually than any book other than the Bible, which isn’t bad for a book written in 1678. Bunyan’s character ‘Pilgrim’ is on a journey, and just about everybody can relate to that! The road isn’t easy, and Pilgrim takes many wrong turns and detours. He nearly gives up on his quest for God, and that, too, is a familiar experience for folk buffeted by life’s harsher winds.
My favorite line in this trustworthy old book comes when Pilgrim arrives at a river that seems to him to be impassable. The waters are rapid and white with threat, and Pilgrim is frightened. He almost turns back, but just as he is about to admit defeat, another wayfarer, crossing just ahead, turns and says: “Be of good cheer, my brother, for I feel the bottom, and it is sound.”
Not everyone at St. Edmund’s participates in building our Altar of Memory. It can seem a little garish, and not especially Episcopalian. But most appreciate the reminder that we are bound together, all of us, from many cultures and traditions, and the living to the dead, along a pilgrim path. As we stroll the sidewalks of San Marino and our surrounding communities, we’ll want to offer small kindnesses, and quiet ways of saying “Be of good cheer my sister, my brother, for I feel the bottom, and it is sound.” A little encouragement, a bit of friendship on offer, is welcome balm for wayfaring hearts.