Making Sacred Memorials from Our Memories.

Rock of remembrance

Thinking about All Saints Day has, not surprisingly brought back memories of my mother. This morning images of her last illness flooded in, triggered by looking at my rock collection, which I often use as a focus for prayer. My hands moved unwaveringly to my rock of remembrance. Running my fingers over its bands of light and dark bound seamlessly together into a solid whole, made me think – joy and sorrow intertwining in my life to make me whole.

Recalling memories like this is important for our own health and healing. I see myself again back in the hospital beside her bed – laughing and crying with her, telling her I love her, reading to her about Scotland the home of her ancestors, reminiscing about our childhood, sharing photos, praying and just sitting quietly beside her my heart aching as she journeys through these last challenging days.

Other events triggered memories this last week too. At the St Francis Day celebrations at our church the vicar prayed for stuffed animals, not something I would ever have thought important. However this time it had me in tears. One of my nephews had given my mother a stuffed dog – Spot – for a previous hospital trip and Spot provided amazing comfort through her final illness. She died with it in her hands.

Memories of those we love and those who have impacted our lives last forever. We can never replace what has been lost, but as we make new connections and new meaningful relationships, these memories help shape us into a new reality. Instead of denying our feelings, our memories help us listen, change and grow into the future.

Celebrations like All Saints Day are important times not just to remember those that have gone whom we loved and who shaped our lives, but also to reflect on how they continue to shape and grow us.

All Saints Day can convert memories into sacred memorials, markers along the way of our own journey. They encourage us to remember the acts of God in our past and the intimate moments of love we have shared. This is one important way that we connect to the acts of God in the present and learn to trust and hope for the promises of God in the future.This is a good time to ask yourself: Am I living true to the character and integrity of those who challenged, mentored and shaped us? What new ways might God prompt me to change as a result of their influence?


Time to Get Ready for All Saints Day

Many hands make light work

Many hands have gone before

All Saints Day is November 1st but many churches will celebrate on Sunday November 3rd. Remembering those who impact our lives, those who have gone before and those who are still with us is an important part of our faith.

The Episcopal Church website explains:

We step aside from the flow of the propers and celebrate all the saints. We stop. We notice, We are surrounded by a flock of witnesses in our midst – many who have gone before us, some we are just now releasing, and still more with a full life ahead of them.

I love the Anglican tradition of renewing our baptismal vows on this day. Reminding ourselves of the journey we have taken personally is a good place to start in remembering the saints of God. In this tradition, all baptized Christians, living and dead known and unknown are considered saints of God. This means everyone including ourselves.

So as you get ready for All Saints Day think about your own faith journey. Remember the faithfulness of God in your past. Notice the movement of God in the present. Think about your hopes and dreams for the future. Get ready to celebrate all that you are as a saint of God.

But don’t stop there. This is a special day for celebrating. Here are some suggestions:

St Aidan’s Episcopal church on Camano Island where we worshipped yesterday is planning a special “remembering” table that will be set up in the nave. The congregation is invited to bring photos or small memorabilia of dear ones who have gone before us and place them on the table. During the worship on All Saint’s Day there will be a special blessing of the photos and memories.

Hold an All Saints’ Day party – a great alternative to Halloween. Get everyone to dress as their favourite saint, or to bring a picture of this saint. During the festivities get everyone to share a story about their saint and the impact he or she has had on their lives. Or you might like to get participants to guess who each person represents.

Plan a family heritage party. Invite people to do some work beforehand researching their family history and particularly the Christian saints who were a part of it.  Ask them to bring photos and stories to share.  Finish with a time of prayer for all those that have gone before us.

Several years ago when my youngest brother went to Greece where my father comes from he found out that it is possible that our family name Aroney comes from the name Aaron and that our family probably originated in Jerusalem many centuries ago.  It is probable that one of the reason they began the journey out of Jerusalem first to Constantinople then to Rhodes and finally to the tiny island of Kithera at the bottom of the Peloponnese mountains is because they became Christians.  There are a number of Greek orthodox priests in my father’s family history and my Aunt Mary was a very devout Greek Orthodox Christian.   I know less about my mother’s family history but would love to find out where her family too has had profound encounters with God.

Plan an All Saints Day pilgrimage. Again this might require some before time research.  Explore the Christian heritage of your community.  Where did the first Christians come from?  How did they interact with the native peoples?  Where was the first church established?  Who were some of the early Christians who impacted your community.  Plan a pilgrimage walk to the site of the first Christian community and if possible have a time of prayer and possibly even a eucharistic celebration to remember those who have gone before.

What are your ideas for celebrating All Saints Day this year? It is a great alternative to Halloween and we would love to hear what you are doing.

Here are some other posts I have written on All Saints Day that you might enjoy.

Coming Home for All Saints Day

Freeing the Saints from Their Hallmark Holidays

Surrounded by Prophetic Voices – Clouds of Witnesses that Call Us Out of Numbness

A Prayer for All Saints Eve


Going Green for Halloween – Seven Tips to Consider

Halloween lantern

Halloween lantern

This morning I was reading through Green America and came across an interesting article on Halloween. Now I am not an advocate for Halloween. It always seems weird to me that Christians celebrate it as much as non Christians. But here in America it is such a part of the culture that this rarely seems to be questioned. And I certainly know it is coming because the number of horror movies on T.V. has increased astronomically. So instead I thought that I would turn my thoughts to preparations for the season.

First some thoughts from the Green America article and elsewhere you may want to consider:

  1. Face paint: A 2009 study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that 10 out of 10 children’s face paints tested contained at least trace levels of lead. This article provides some DIY alternatives.
  2. The Candy Problem: 41 million kids in the U.S. go trick or treating. Last year Americans spent something like 2.2 billion on Halloween candy. No wonder one out of three children in America are overweight and many will develop diabetes. Consider making your own healthy treats, giving out non food items like polished stones, temporary tattoos, or friendship bracelets.
  3. Swap costumes: Millions of costumes are purchased in the U.S. each year. Consider holding a pre Halloween party to swap, mend, make or borrow costumes from your friends.
  4. Reverse Trick or Treating: I wrote about this a couple of years ago in this article. My growing concern for just working conditions for children makes me a strong advocate for this. I think it is a wonderful way to raise awareness of these issues and show consistency for our values.
  5. Hold an All Saints Party. Rather than celebrating Halloween celebrate All Saints Day November 1st. Have kids dress up as their favourite person or saint. Share stories, decorate pumpkins if you must but also consider some alternatives like decorating window panes with non toxic paints, making Christmas decorations and wreaths.
  6. Organize a Community or Neighbourhood Event. Green Halloween started in Seattle but grew into a national phenomenon with community events at more than 50 locations. You might want to join in the fun and get to know some of your neighbours.
  7. Make the most of you pumpkins: Kids and adults alike love carving and decorating pumpkins, but I hate to watch them slowly rotting on the porch. So here are some thoughts to use that pumpkin more effectively. Save the seeds and toast them in the oven with a little salt. Use the pumpkin flesh (discarding any melted wax) to make pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup and pumpkin bread.

Surrounded by Prophetic Voices – Clouds of Witnesses that Call Us Out of Numbness

surrounded by ordinary saints

surrounded by ordinary saints - Emmanuel Garibay

Today is All Saints Day, and like many who celebrate this festival I have been meditating on the words of Hebrews 12:1,2 this morning which I quote here from the Living New Testament.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

At the same time I have been mulling over the invitation to participate in this month’s synchroblog which reads:

Richard Rohr says “the role of the prophets is to call us out of numbness.” Since the beginning of time, prophetic voices both in and outside of scripture have been calling us to consider change of some sort. Sometimes it is spiritual change, other times it may be economic, political, or systemic change. Regardless of the emphasis, prophets challenge us to consider a better future. Right now there’s a strong sense of change brewing in the church, the world; people are rising up and calling individuals, communities, nations, and everything in between out of numbness and toward justice, mercy, equality, and love. Read more

The voices that have called me out of numbness this year are many and varied. There is much change in the wind and I know that I need to listen closely to hear what God is saying. In many ways it has been a hard year, starting with the death of a good friend in the Christchurch earthquake speeding through an extremely busy summer with our annual Celtic retreat on Camano Island, preparing to launch the Pacific NW Sustainability Semester away program next September, relaunching our MSA ezine in January and  putting together Waiting for the Light our latest Advent/Christmas resource from MSA. But it has also been a very good year, beginning with the celebration of my 60th birthday and new ministries emerging in the writing of prayers and the expansion of the MSA garden team.

All of these events have brought me into contact with a rich array of people across the world, many of whom have spoken into my life in prophetic ways. For me this year the prophetic voices have not been well known inspirational speakers or cutting edge theologians. They have been the ordinary people who surround and support Tom and me and the MSA team and ministry. People who comment on this blog and constantly challenge me to walk with integrity and live the talk. People who encourage me to keep writing, praying and speaking out when I feel discouraged.  People who support us when we come up with ideas like the Mustard Seed Village that sometimes sound more like si-fi imagining than reality.

All of us are prophetic voices for someone. Any time we encourage, support or cheer for someone to make decisions for a more just, more generous, more loving life we are being prophetic. We are helping bring their dreams for the future into being and that is I think what being prophetic is all about.

A Tribute to Those Who Have Gone Before

Palm Sunday icon

The saints are coming - clouds of witnesses that have gone before

Halloween is coming and in the glare of its monster shrouded festivities it is easy to forget that the real purpose of the season, from a Christian perspective is to celebrate the lives of the saints who have gone before us. All Saints’s day is a wonderful time to spend time reflecting on the clouds of witnesses who have gone before so seemed like an appropriate time to post my favourite prayer and you tube video.

The prayer I originally came across in a little book entitled Celtic Fire, a delightful collection of stories and prayers that I would heartily recommend to you. I often use it at the end of a seminar as a going forth prayer, though it was originally written as a morning prayer.

Let us go forth

In the goodness of our merciful father

In the gentleness of our brother Jesus,

In the radiance of his Holy Spirit

In the faith of the apostles,

In the joy praise of the angels,

In the holiness of the saints,

In the courage of the martyrs.

Let us go forth

In the wisdom of our all-seeing Father

In the patience of our all-loving brother,

In the truth of the all-knowing Spirit,

In the learning of the apostles,

In the gracious guidance of the angels,

In the patience of the saints,

In the self control of the martyrs,

Such is the path for all servants of Christ,

The path from death to eternal life.

And here are a couple of videos that I thought were very moving.. The First by U2 after Katrina is very moving and powerful – it is a little dated now but the reminder that the saints of God are all the ordinary people who respond to the needs of the world is very powerful.

I also came across this beautiful rendition of the litany of the saints that I thought was worth sharing

Coming Home for All Saints Day

Its All Saints Day and Tom and I are back home in Seattle . In spite of the cold drippy weather it is a delight to be here.  There is nothing quite like coming home to evoke warm fuzzy emotions of joy and satisfaction. The sighting of familiar faces at the airport, the enthusiastic greeting of our golden retriever Bonnie, and that first glimpse of house and garden all overwhelm us with contentment.   This is the place our hearts have longed for during our long drawn out journey.  This we know is where we belong.  It sights, sounds and smells are all part of something we feel incomplete when away from, no matter how enjoyable the experiences in other places might be.

No wonder we often view our entry into the kingdom of God as a joyous homecoming feast, an event that seems very appropriate to think about on this All Saints’ Day.  Our coming home to God’s kingdom is the ultimate homecoming, what Richard Foster describes as a “coming home to the heart of God.” It is a fulfillment of the deepest longings of our souls, that sometimes heart wrenching craving for a closer and more intimate relationship with God which makes everything else fade into insignificance.  This is the place where our spirits truly belong.

Coming home to the kingdom of God is about more than reaching a destination however.  It is indeed an incredible welcoming feast when we sit down at table with all those who have gone before us, not just our loved ones and our ancestors, not even just the saints of old, but also those that God has brought in from the highways and byways – the poor, the disabled and the marginalized.

Chris Lawrence, one of the people we were with in England this last week once held a banquet feast in his neighbourhood at which the police officers and the city council members served table for the homeless, the drug addicts and the welfare single parent families.  I suspect that this is something of what the kingdom banquet feast will look like and heading those that wait at table will be Jesus, coming to all of us as a servant, filling our plates with the choicest of food and our glasses with the finest of wines.  What an incredible homecoming that will be – something that all of us should indeed long for in the depths of our being.

So what images come  to mind when you think of homecoming?  And in particular what comes to mind when you think of the homecoming banquet of God?

Here is one of my favourite All Saints scriptures to help you reflect.  (Hebrews 11:32 – 12:2)

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[a] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Hebrews 12

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.



What do you see?

When the sun rises do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a gold coin?  O, no, no, I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying ‘Holy, Holy’ Holy is the Lord God Almighty.  (William Blake – a Vision of the Last Judgement

I could not help but think of this today.  This morning as the sun rose I looked out on a beautiful Seattle autumn morning – expecting that it will be the last for a while.  The sky was tinged with pink and the mountains, shone in the early morning light, but as I looked out I too tried to see it with the eyes of vision, eyes that don’t just see the physical world but that are opened to the spiritual world as well.

So what do you see as you look out on the day?  We are surrounded by a great host of witnesses and as we move toward November 1st and the celebration of All Saints Day, this is a great time to think about that.  We don’t need to focus on the scary images associated with Halloween but look beyond with the vision that God gives us to the gathering of the mighty hosts of God’s people.

In many Christian traditions, icons are used to remind us of those who have gone before and of the clouds of witnesses that surround us, but we need reminders in our daily lives too of those that cheer us on, encourage and support us in all we do.  So as you go through the day today, as you look out at the sun drenched, rain drenched or even snow drenched landscape look with new eyes.  Imagine that you see the great clouds of witnesses rejoicing and singing before the throne of God

Then I heard again what sounded like the shout of a vast crowd or the roar of mighty ocean waves or the crash of loud thunder:

Praise the Lord! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns

Let us be glad and rejoice and let us give honour to him. (Rev 19:6,7)