Jane Kenyon’s poem Let Evening Come captures the gentle voice of God, the words of the saints, and the wisdom of the matriarchs and patriarchs of our faith reminding us that darkness is as holy as light, that the endings of days and events and relationships and lives are not the absence of God, but the profound presence of an aspect of God we can only see because we are not blinded by the light of our own egos.
Today, the day of Halloween, begins the Autumnal Triduum. I love that phrase. The syllables move us from the long days of summer, the lushness of the earth and the ripeness of all that is creation, to the waning light that is its own slow holiness. The three holy days of autumn - All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day, invite us into darkness slowly and easily, as only a human constructed calendar touching the mystery of God can.
Today, All Hallows’ Eve, we dress in costume, we get treats from neighbors, we laugh at being scared. Tomorrow, many Christian traditions will celebrate All Saints’ Day, a day we commemorate and remember the saints of the church, those whose heroic faith serves as a witness to us. Saints are bigger than life because, well, they are saints. And their deaths are infused with meaning in a particular way. They died as a witness to the love of God. Some cared for the sick while all others fled for their own safety during epidemics until they, too, succumbed to illness. Some devoted their lives to prayer by walling themselves in small cells, praying for hours and days and weeks for the world until their dying breath. Some stood on the front lines of love and acceptance, standing between hate and humanity when bullets rang out, saving our lives from the hell of hate while giving theirs.
When I think of the saints, my grief is a small part of the memory, if it’s there at all. Most of the saints lived long ago, and the stories of their lives of faith and their deaths in faith are inspiring rather than sad. They have become saints of the ages and in that transition, left some of their humanness behind. The more modern saints crack the door open on grief and sadness, with the stories of their deaths. The image of the nun wailing over the bloody body of The Rev. Oscar Romero or the photo of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s children viewing his body as it lay in repose remind us that saints are saints because they were often martyred (a Christian word for murdered) for their faith and that martyrdom was wrapped in the grief and sorrow of those who loved them.
|Sunset at Yellowstone's Lamar Valley|
Photo credit Laurie Brock
And then, we are invited into the fullness and the sorrowful beauty of our own grief on All Souls’ Day. November 2nd is a day set aside to let evening come, to be enveloped by grief with hope. But we humans are better at hope than grief. Hope is more fun. She makes us feel good with stories and inspiring speeches.
Grief asks us to stop moving so much, to stop being busy, to stop explaining that we’re okay, and to sit while evening comes. I’m not sure anyone willingly invites grief to the party; she just shows up uninvited, often suddenly and unexpectedly. And we ignore her until we’ve exhausted ourselves with being “fine” and spill a cup of coffee one day and collapse into snot-filled sobs because we miss our spouse or our parent or our friend who died and we just need to feel sad and wail at the world.
And in that moment, God holding grief’s hand and holding ours, too, reminds us that evening does come and God is there. Always.
A faithful life isn’t devoid of grief; it recognizes grief is holy and sacred. And on the last day of the three holy days of autumn, we are invited to grieve all that has been lost in our lives - those who have died, but also those things our culture doesn’t invite us to grieve. On All Souls’ Day, grieve the relationships that have died because humans are complicated and our relationships mirror that messy complexity. Grieve our animal companions whose love is so pure it gives us a glimpse of God each time we mourn them. Grieve the changes that have come in life that have shifted us into a new place, even if the new place seems like it might be good, change is still a loss, and loss is still sad. Grieve the friend whose picture shows up in Facebook memories a week after she died much too young and much too soon.
Grieve the violent hate that took the lives of a man and a woman in Kentucky who were murdered because they were Black and eleven people who were murdered at Tree of Life Synagogue because they were Jews. Grieve that hope sometimes feels far away, too far away. Grieve that Matthew Shepard’s parents could not bury their son for 20 years after his murder because they were afraid his grave would be desecrated and our LGBTQ+ companions in life are still afraid for their lives, especially from those who also claim the faith of Jesus.
Fall onto the floor of the earth, let the tears flow. Wipe snot on your sleeve and cry so much you wonder if you’ll ever stop. Wail for all that is sorrowful and heartbreaking in this world. God will be there on the floor with us in our grief and sorrow and wailing. She always is.
Let the holy darkness settle in, and let this holy day give us courage to grieve. Hope will be born soon enough, but for now, let evening come.
Jane Kenyon’s poem, Let Evening Come, can be found here.