As you probably know, Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallow’s Eve or Saints Evening. Begun centuries ago as a Christian tradition, it became a festival on the evening before All Saints Day when evil and ghosts were warded off by means of costumes and bonfires.
I am not anti-Halloween, but as I get older I find myself focusing more on All Saints Day when we reflect upon those who have gone before us and have marked our own spiritual pilgrimages in significant ways. We will do that again this Sunday. If you can’t join us in the sanctuary, I hope you will do so on the radio or live stream.
Heidi Neumark, a Lutheran pastor in New York City, explains that both her parents were scientists and not given to a poetic bent. And though she doesn’t put it in so many words, she conveys the idea that they believed only in what was observable, what was seen, and as often as possible, what was provable. That’s what scientists do. Yet, her mother read her poetry from the time she was very young. As Heidi puts it, her mother did this because she observed that they “gladdened” her daughter’s spirit.
Near the end of her life, Heidi’s mother coped with the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease. “Her conversation took strange turns,” Heidi explains, “…her brain bundled her off on hallucinogenic journeys.” One day, Heidi’s mother ripped a page from a magazine and asked her caregiver to tape the page to her daughter’s bedroom door. It was an ad for diamond earrings. It was a strange request since Heidi does not have pierced ears, nor does she crave expensive jewelry. But the caregiver did it anyway because she was asked to do it.
When Heidi found the magazine ad taped to the door, she immediately realized that it wasn’t about the jewelry. Below the diamonds were the words, “Become a poet.” It was one of her mother’s more lucid moments, and Heidi knew immediately what her mother was saying to her. “You, beloved jewel of my heart, be who you are called to be, do what you are called to do.”
It was, Heidi says, “my mother’s final gift to me.”
I would encourage you, as we approach All Saints Day, to consider those who have given you that final gift, and offer a prayer of gratitude for the saints who have gone before us.