Forever—is composed of Nows—
This Thursday, on October 31, just over 200 ghouls, ghosts, super heroes, and other characters will arrive in my neighborhood seeking Halloween treats. While Halloween is perhaps the most visible festival this time of the year, at least in my neighborhood, Halloween is actually only one of a trio of cultural and religious ritual observances that happen during the transitional days between October and November–All Hallow’s Even (or Evening), Hallowmas (All Saints Day), Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The histories, beliefs, and practices connected to each ritual vary depending on cultural and geographical location.
All Saints’ Day, which dates to the early 7th Century C.E., is celebrated annually in many Christian traditions on November 1 and commemorates those saints, now departed, who have influenced Christian faith. Current celebrations of All Saints, particularly in Protestant churches, commemorate all Christians, past and present, and particularly those in local congregations who have died in the last year. Some churches commemorate local “saints” on All Souls’ Day, the day following All Saints’ Day. All Saints was historically called in some traditions Hallowmas, “hallow” meaning “saints,” and “mas” meaning “mass,” or Eucharistic feast. Those who observed Hallowmas held a Eucharist feast in memory of saints of the faith. The day before Hallowmas was (and still is in some places) the Vigil of All Hallows, or what is now recognized in popular culture as Halloween. We will reflect on and celebrate saints in our chapel service this Thursday, October 31.
In some countries, for example in Portugal, Mexico, and Spain, All Saints coincides with Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents), which is the first day of the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). On the Dia de los Inocentes, communities remember infants and children who have died. The Dia de los Muertos is observed in varied ways in Spanish-speaking countries, but at the center of many celebrations is time set aside to visit, and in some places decorate, the gravesites of loved ones who have died. The Dia de los Muertos is a national holiday in Mexico.
Emily Dickinson’s famous poetic line, “Forever—is composed of Nows–,” comes to mind as we arrive at these October/November days of remembrance. Time, in Christian tradition and theology, has been defined, discussed, and debated in lively fashion over many centuries. The history of sacred and secular calendars reflects this liveliness of human understandings of time. What Dickinson expresses in her poem reflects one dimension of this season’s trio of ritualized remembrances. Scholars think that in the poem that contains this line, Dickinson sought to emphasize that eternity in God is the daily experience of humanity. In other words, the saints are, in a sense, with us today, and we are, in a sense, living eternity now.
So, during this week of saintly remembrances, the School of Divinity begins advising for another spring term. As we anticipate spring course offerings, we might note the many saints who before us have undertaken theological studies and who have contributed to our continually expanding understanding of ministry. As we contemplate a new semester, perhaps we can imagine again ways to join our journeys to theirs.
*Note: These reflections are a revised version of reflections posted for the last several years on the occasions of the Vigil of All Hallows and All Saints’ Day.
NOTE: Registration begins on Monday, November 4, 2013. Detailed information about registration can be found here.
Please note that the spring schedule now includes an additional multicultural contexts course:
|MIN 790 The Monastic Impulse Old & New: Prayer, Work, and the Spirituality of Food.
Professors: Fred Bahnson and Jonathan Hartgrove
Contexts: Mepkin Abbey (Charleston, SC), Rutba House (Durham, NC), and Anthony’s Plot (Winston-Salem, NC)
|**Students must apply to participate in the course by completing a POI instructor form available in the Office of the Academic Dean. The course has limited enrollment.|
|Course description:Ora et labora. Prayer and work. These are the touchstones of the Benedictine monastic tradition. Learning from monastic voices both ancient and new, this course will give students first hand experience the monastic life, particularly as expressed through the lenses of field, table, and communion. Since monastic cultures are subcultures, this course will be a first-hand experience of a much different way of life. Through immersion learning, students will discover how the ancient wisdom ofora et labora can teach them a spirituality for the long haul, whatever their ministry setting.|
|Course structure: The course will consist of one initial 2-hr. orientation class meeting Friday Jan.17 from 10-12noon at WFUSD and two complimentary immersion experiences. The first trip will be a visit Feb.7-9 (Fri.—Sunday) to Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery near Charleston, SC. Over this long weekend students will be immersed in every aspect of Trappist life, from rising at 3am for Vigils to working in the mushroom operation to helping prepare and clean up meals. We will stay in the retreat center at the monastery, take all our meals with the monks, and work alongside them each morning. Bahnson will accompany students on this trip, and will provide daily reflections and time for discussion. Additionally, each afternoon will include a lecture by one of the monks on different topics pertaining to the course: i.e. “Manual labor in the Benedictine tradition, Monastic Views on Food and Asceticism, etc.” Students will also be able to sign up for spiritual direction/vocational discernment with one of the monks. Before the trip they will have read several classics in the monastic canon (see bibliography).|
|The second immersion experience will be a one-day immersion at Rutba House, a New Monastic community started by Jonathan and Leah Wilson-Hartgrove in 2003 in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, NC. On March 10, students will participate in food practices of the community and hear lectures from members of the community, focused on ways that food is central to a life of prayer, work, and mission in Walltown. Prior to their visit at Rutba House, they will have read articles on the “new monasticism” and eating together as a theological practice.|
|The third visit will be Friday April 18, at a local new monastic community in Winston-Salem called St. Anthony’s Plot. Jonathan will join us and teach at this location. Students will get acquainted with a local ministry they can return to, and see how the monastic impulse becomes embodied in a setting different from Walltown.|
Blessings for the week ahead,
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs