November 2012 letter

Remembrance

November in church life is a month for remem-bering; and not just because of Remembrance Sunday, which this year actually occurs on November 11th and will be marked by special services in our churches. The first two days of the month, partly because they too only occa-sionally fall on a Sunday, are less marked now in our culture than they have been in other times, and still are in many countries, but they are all about the loving remembrance of those who have passed before us.

The first of November is All Saint’s day, with its older name of All Hallows (Hallowed being an old word for Holy). That is the day when traditionally the Church remembers all those who have been recognised over the centuries as particular ‘Saints’ of the church – either be-cause they were martyred for their faith, or because of the special holiness of their lives. Today, of course, the previous day, ‘All Hal-low’s Eve’ is better remembered than the day itself – as ‘Halloween’. All those ‘ghoulies and ghosties’ that children dress up as are actually running away, driven out by the special holi-ness of the following day. Festivities used to include banging drums and cymbals in church-yards to celebrate the driving out of evil! It is as if we still celebrated Christmas Eve but for-got about Christmas Day itself!

If All Saints is about the better known heroes of our faith, the day after, known as All Soul’s Day is a much more homely festival. It is a day when we are encouraged to remember our per-sonal ‘saints’; those we have loved who have gone before us; family members and dear friends who have died. In many less ‘stiff up-per lipped’ countries, this is a much more exu-berant festival, with family get-togethers, trips to decorate family graves, festivals and parades.

As with so many Church traditions, there is a deeper wisdom in this than we may realise. I sometimes think I write many of my sermons and articles with the Bible in one hand and my copy of New Scientist magazine in the other, because so often what I read in the scientific press sheds new light on things that our faith has always tried to teach us. In this case, I was reading a recent article about the importance of memories as a hedge against depression and even possibly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It seems that a study showed that people who were depressed or suffered from PTSD often did not recall events of their past lives clearly or specifically, but tended to answer questions about the past in very general terms. Under-standable – but the surprising thing seemed to be that encouraging people to remember more specific incidents and helping them to retrain their memories to be more active and specific actually helped their condition.

As someone who is so often privileged to listen as people reminisce about someone they have lost, I can well believe this. Often, when we are bereaved, the world seems to lose its colour, and sometimes the only memories that stand out are the recent ones of loss or trauma. But when I ask a specific question – ‘Where did you meet?’, or ‘What do you most remember about your mum from your childhood?’ – I can see life come back into someone’s eyes as the memory transports them back into that time.

Our happy memories are like precious pearls which grow more lustrous and beautiful with handling. Every time a memory is taken out and caressed and valued it gives us new joy and that joy is added to the memory itself for next time.

So this month, even if by the time you read this the first few days have passed, let’s make time for remembering. Let’s be willing to talk and listen to the memories of others, particularly those who are grieving. And if you know someone who seems in danger of losing themselves in that grey fog of depression, why not take time to have a cup of tea and ask those questions that might spark specific memories of happier times.

Reverend KarenSpray church@revdkaren.org.uk 01392 877400


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