All Saints’ Day

On this All Saints’ Day, as we left the church singing “Oh, when the Saints, go marching in,” I connected with my ancestors. If you’ve read this blog, you realize that’s no mean feat for me. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about my father’s family and their sins. I do not consider them saints. I don’t want to connect with them. In fact, I’ve worked hard to make them “them” and me “me.” Oppositional. Bad vs. good. Ignorant vs. enlightened. Racist vs. aware.

Dualism or All Saints?

My dualistic view of my ancestors couldn’t last. I don’t do dichotomies well. Sooner or later, black and white gives way to gray. But what nudged me to change on this All Saints’ Day?

For one thing, an idea has been percolating in my head for a while. In the Episcopal church, we pray for the dead. We believe the departed continue to grow in their relationship with God. In fact, that’s what we pray for: that they may grow closer to God. Over a decade ago, I felt in my bones that my refusal to forgive an ancestor who’d harmed me was standing in the way of his deepening relationship with God. Convicted, I knelt on the kneeler and both forgave him and prayed for forgiveness of my own hard heart.

Today’s conviction took that one step further.

All Saints or Some Saints?

More than once today, the priest reminded us it’s All Saints’ Day, not Some of the Saints Day. The folks I’ve been busy setting myself apart from belong to the communion of saints. All of them. I’m not separate from them. I’m a continuation. The water of life flows from them through me and on. One day, I will be the ancestor. The one who needs forgiveness for my own sins.

So what if these generations of prayers have been “working?” What if those who came before and did such harm have looked down from an enveloping love and realized that too many times, they did not honor that love? What if my ancestors are the ones who’ve been sending me these nudges to repair the harm? What if they’ve inspired every good thing I’ve felt led to do, not just in the sense of wanting to leave a different legacy, but including that very desire?

All Means All

So this is my takeaway. The Beatitudes’ “blessings and woes” that the priest said are in each of us are in my ancestors and me. They were blessed and they were woeful. I am blessed and I am woeful. I belong to the human race, the communion of saints, the beloved of God. As do we all.

Mother Mary, a saint to remember on All Saints' Day
All Saints means All Saints

All Saints' Day, inspiration from your ancestors, judging your ancestors, praying for the dead, racist ancestors, the communion of saints

Comments (8)

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Me and Nadia Bolz-Weber! Whoever thought I’d hear such a sentence. <3 It's been a long time coming, Marsha. But it really permeated my soul today so I hope it sticks.

  • You do a fine job when writing about the long Civil rights movement and now you can add theology to yourrepertoire.. I am in awe of your talent and cred as a writer

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Thank you, Joe. Sometimes I have an epiphany, and then I feel the urge to share it. I’m glad that it resonates with you. And thank you for your laudatory words. They mean a lot.

  • Until we forgive the sins done to us, God isn’t obliged to forgive us. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those sins against us.” This has been a reminder for decades.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Yes, so simple, yet I had convinced myself that forgiveness was God’s province, not mine. These ancestors I now write about have not sinned against me, but others. Which, I think, makes my unforgiving judgment of them worse. Thank you for commenting, Shelia. Good to hear from you.

  • Years ago, there was a mission at our church and something the presenter said has stuck with me. He was speaking about purgatory not as some indefinite stop on the way to heaven but as an event that happens immediately after death. When the soul encounters the full love and presence of God, it immediately realizes the depth of sins committed and fully repents, making the soul ready to be welcomed into eternity with the Divine and, as you point out, all the saints.

    I love that you point out that we who are currently alive on this earth are also part of that communion. There is such comfort in that unity across time and space when I can calm myself to contemplate it, especially because my understanding is that all people belong to the communion, whether or not they follow a faith tradition. Thank you so much for sharing your insights, Ellen. I’m honored to be one of the still-imperfect saints marching with you.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      What a lovely, love-filled vision of the moments after death. This feeling of unity you describe keeps growing with me, as if my life-long search for community (“I wanted to buy a Saturn just to be invited to the picnic”) is reaching a goal. May the saints march on!

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