The month of November is a time of remembrance of loved ones.
Perhaps the shortening days and the chill in the air are a reminder of the lurking shadow of mortality, a sense of how short our times are. Perhaps there is a lingering subconscious recall of the centuries past when winter claimed the lives of many, when the simplest of illnesses could be fatal.
Last Thursday, 2nd November was the day observed as All Souls’ Day in many Christian traditions. All Souls’ is the day on which the good and faithful souls of past generations are remembered; a day on which many people recall their departed loved ones. It is a day on which many pray for the repose of the souls of those whom they have lost.
If someone does not believe that people gone from this life are in need prayers, then All Souls’ Day never seemed attractive. Yet if one wanders through any old churchyard, and takes a moment to pause in front of old and faded headstones, there must be questions about the lives that are commemorated.
Who is there left to remember those people? What pains and tragedies may they have endured? Stand at the grave of a child and there is a palpable sense of the grief that must have been felt. How many tears must have been shed in that place?
All Souls’ Day, and the days of November that follow, are a recalling of the countless people like those whose mortal remains lie beneath the grass of countless graveyards. Perhaps though, it is a day more important to the living than to the dead.
If we believe in Heaven, if we believe in eternal life, if we have a hope of life in the world to come, then what matters most to the people who now enjoy that that life is the reality of their present existence, what matters is the life they live in eternity.
Our prayers for our loved ones are more important to we ourselves than to those who dwell on another shore and in a greater light.
There is a sublime passage in Sebastian Faulks’ novel Charlotte Gray, it is a passage that captures the fullness of human mortaility and that captures a profound sense of hope in God.
In the novel, a character called Levade is a Catholic Jew who is living in Vichy France in 1942. The character writes a diary entry which expresses a hope that most of us could not articulate.
“No child born knows the world he is entering, and at the moment of his birth he is a stranger to his parents. When he dies, many years later, there may be regrets among those left behind that they never knew him better, but he is forgotten almost as soon as he dies because there is no time for others to puzzle out his life. After a few years he will be referred to once or twice by a grandchild, then by no one at all. Unknown at the moment of birth, unknown after death. This weight of solitude! A being unknown.
And yet, if I believe in God, I am known. On the tombs of the English soldiers, the ones too fragmented to have a name, I remember that they wrote ‘Known unto God’. By this they meant that here was a man, who did once have arms and legs and a father and a mother, but they could not find all the parts of him – least of all his name.
God will know me, even as I cannot know myself. If He created me, then He has lived with me. He knows the nature of my temptations and the manner of my failing. So I am not alone. I have for my companion the creator of the world.
At the hour of my death I would wish to be ‘known unto God’.”
What a wonderful hope, to be known by a God who knows our deepest thoughts and failings, and yet is there beside us. What greater comfort could there be than to have God as a companion?
May the souls of those gone from this world be known to the Lord of the next.