Suzy is an ordained Interspiritual Priest with the UAIC-Not Your Grandma's Church! She holds an M.Div. from Claremont School of Theology.
In the Previous Episode
We’ve been talking about what it means to be a Spiritual Warrior, and how to be one. We defined a Spiritual Warrior as one who has the strength to know who they are, what they stand for, where they are called, and how they are going to get there. As a guide to becoming a Spiritual Warrior, I chose Jesus’ list of the blessed from his Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew because it reveals a plan for becoming a Spiritual Warrior. In the last article, we concluded that the “poor in spirit” are blessed because they are often the ones who will become spiritual seekers. As they seek, they find their portion in the Divine. In fact, it occurs to me that it is often the poor who share the most of what they have with others in need.
They Who Mourn
Today we come to “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” One of the attributes of a Spiritual Warrior is the ability to be strength for others. On the other hand, it is powerful to be able to accept the comfort of others when we are sad or in mourning.
Times of mourning, sadness, or depression are sometimes called Times in the Desert, Wilderness, or a Dark Night of the Soul. We in the northern hemisphere are heading into the darker time of year, a liminal time in which many believe the boundary between this world and the next is thin. There are many ways of considering this boundary and what is on the other side. Since ancient times, many cultures have believed that the boundary between the living and the dead is but a veil that can be crossed during this time of year.
As we come to the beginning days of winter, this is a good time for inner reflection for people of all traditions. It is a time of the final harvest in places where the weather gets cold and the crops have matured. This is when we remember those who have left this world before us. We do this so we can retain a bond to those whom we have loved and those from whom we have come. We mourn the loss of our loved ones, but we also rejoice in the love that we have for them. This is one way of finding comfort in our sorrow.
All Hallows Eve
The ancient Celts celebrated Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) at the end of October. Today, this night is called All Hallows Eve or Halloween. It is the night, the ancients believed, that the veil between this world and the next was its thinnest; a time when those who had passed away might cross back over. This was the night they honored their dead. Many Pagans today celebrate Samhain in this way.
For Christians, November 1 is All Saints Day, when the saints and martyrs throughout Christian history are commemorated. Christians who have died in the past year are remembered and honored on November 2; this is a holy day called All Souls Day. This is also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. On this day, many congregations will read a litany of their members and loved ones of members who have died over the past year. By celebrating the loss of those who have died in such a public fashion, we maintain a connection to those we have loved and admired in both the recent and the distant past. Such connection is an expression of love and respect for those whom we have lost. We remember not only who they were, but who we are.
The Importance of Ritual
Recognizing this connection is both institutional, as in the celebration of All Saints Day, but it is also quite personal. On Samhain and on All Souls, it is our own who we remember. I’d like to share a very personal experience that allowed me to understand the importance of the rituals of remembering. It happened to me a number of years ago, when my children were young. It was late on a Halloween night. The children had all been tucked into bed after a long walk trick-or-treating, the annual viewing of the animated version of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, and the obligatory half-hour of candy-gorging. The house held the scent of pumpkin, both from the jack-o-lanterns on the porch and the baking of seeds laden with butter and salt. In a ritual that I began to practice when my eldest was a baby, I lit some patchouli incense, poured a glass of wine, wrapped myself in a shawl and sat alone on the porch in the near dark to breathe in the cool midnight air. I could see the edges of the memorial banner that we hang each year, commemorating those who have gone before, and I ruminated on the meaning of the night.
The moment of unity came as I sat barefoot in the cold sipping wine and gazing at the stars in silence. I thought of my children asleep inside. Inhaling, I caught the scents of my incense and the pumpkin mingled with the aromas of the night – the cold air, the leftover cook-fires of neighbors who had grilled earlier in the evening. My feet, flat on the ground, soaked in the cool soil beneath and I felt as if they were growing into the ground, like a new willow. I looked up into the dark sky at those brilliant stars and I wondered if my mother had ever sat thusly, thinking of her children asleep in the house. This thought led to my grandmother, who I’ve often sensed near me, and her mother…and I envisioned a chain of mothers, my own mothers, who handed down to me this legacy of love and motherhood.
I thought of how I held each of my children as infants, looking into their eyes as they gazed at me. I had a distinct sensation of knowing. This baby I held in my arms knew me, the deepest part of me, and still loved me and trusted me beyond measure. I remembered those eyes of my babies and that gaze of knowing. In that memory, I had a momentary awareness of a never-ending chain of mothers that went back in time to some beginning I could not see and forward in time to some other place I could not see; the vision wrapped around itself until what I saw was a circle of mothers and I was one of them; one with them. The sense of unity expanded until I was connected not only to the circle of motherhood, but to my fathers, and to all creatures – to all Being. For one tiny moment, I knew that I was a part of God. I was not only loved – I was Love. It was a sense of me loving and being loved in some intangible way that can only be described as a sense of oneness; a sense of unity.
What Is Remembered
It is in the connection of remembering that we who mourn are blessed. In remembering, we take part in the continuation of the lives of our loved ones. Often when the loved one of a Neo-Pagan dies, many will say to them, “what is remembered lives.” This comes from a song by Starhawk, Wiccan writer and founder of Reclaiming. The phrase has become more mainstream recently because it was quoted in the 2020 film Nomadland. When a Jewish person crosses the veil, it is said, “may their memory be a blessing.” Both of these phrases acknowledge the continuing connection between the living and the dead. So often, when someone we know has a loved one who has died, we say to them, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It is a proper response; however, it focuses on the separation that has seemingly occurred. All three of these sentiments acknowledge the sorrow of those who are still alive, but the first two are reminders that though our loved one has passed into another world, we are still united with them by our memories. It reminds us of the blessing they have been, and will continue to be, in our lives. Most importantly, perhaps, it is a reminder that we have others in our lives who care about us. It reminds us that we have been loved, that we are a part of something, and we will continue to be a part of that something.
The Armor of Light
I believe that when we find and claim the blessing in our mourning, we are donning another part of our “armor of Light.” Knowing that we have been, and will always be, loved will comfort and empower us. As our memories of our loved ones keep them alive and bring us the blessings those memories, we realize that Love never dies. Love is not only in our relationships; Love is our relationships – to one another, to ourselves, to the earth, to the universe around us, and even to God.
Knowing this, I mean really knowing this deep in our souls, makes us stronger. We become more able to move through our times of grief, acknowledging our dark times, and knowing that we will come through it because we will never forget the goodness that we have access to in our memories and in our connections.
We mourn many things besides the people who leave us behind in this world. We mourn other living beings we love, like our pets, who bring us joy, unconditional love, and trust. We mourn lost opportunities, the dissolution of dreams, the road not taken. We can mourn our lost youth or a choice we regret having made. Sometimes we mourn the death of someone famous who had an impact on our lives and even the death of a beloved fictional character. During these times, we are strengthened by the awareness that even in these times, we have loved, we continue to love, and we continue to be loved.
This strength is part of what makes a Spiritual Warrior. Because we are able to face our losses, struggle through the pain of such loss, and stand up afterward, we are able to help others find their strength. We are able to help others to come through their dark night. Sometimes we do this by reaching out our hands and walking beside them. Sometimes we do it by sitting with them and allowing them to share their pain. I think maybe most of the time we do it simply by living our lives in such a way that others see our strength and find both solace and inspiration in what they observe.
Things to Consider
What kinds of things do you mourn?
How are you comforted when you are mourning?
How can you be present for others who are in mourning?
© 2022 Suzy Jacobson Cherry