I have a confession to make – I have been to church. Which is something not so popular in my generation, isn’t it?
I went there on All Saints’ Day, because i wanted to see how different cultures and religions celebrate this occasion. I went there because my boyfriend showed me pictures of how it has been last year. No long sermons, no communion, no fancy liturgy, just a quiet moment to commemorate those who had passed away. That’s what I signed up for, and that’s what I got. Except I got something more.
When celebrating Halloween (or whatever you call it) I tried to honour the dead, think of what is passed, what is lost, what will await us when we die. But being at this service, I experienced sincerity and realness. Something I didn’t expect, to be honest – rituals in churches usually feel stiff and exerted to me.
The sermon was alright, and I wouldn’t sing the song because I didn’t agree with them, but the people there were real. Most of them had lost somebody over the course of the year. Their grief was real. I hummed the two songs instead and became one with the crowd.
There were two solo songs performed, very simply, just a soprano and a piano. And they felt earnest. The simplicity of the melodies and lyrics made them also heartfelt.
Around the altar there stood candles, each with a name label. The main ritual of this service was reading out these names of the deceased, and lightning their candle. That’s all. At the end of the whole service the relatives could take the candle with them, if they wanted to. Again, it’s the simplicity of the ritual that struck me. I understood: before, I was trying to think of death and life and dying and gone things as abstract concepts. But death is not abstract, death is something very real. And when the singer sang her second song after the candle lightning, my eyes were quite a bit teary and I felt like I had understood and felt quite a bit better what this part of our human being is.
Now, when I think about it, going to the graveyard and looking at all those little grave candles put up therewas maybe elevating the experience a bit to the philosophical part of this spirituality again. The beauty of all those little lights glimmering in the darkness struck me, it seemed like a mystical universe. All the memories. All these souls. And, at least according to my beliefs, they are always part of this universe.
And thus I was back at my more abstract, philosophical ideas. 😉 But this time it felt more natural, more real.
Halloween, Samhain, Día de los Muertos, All Saints, Obon… Isn’t it funny how the names might differ, but the idea is always the same? I think every culture or religion has feasts with the same topics. They are all about death, birth, love, harvest. They are the same because we as a human collective are the same, we care about certain topics, no matter where or what time we come from. I think feasts are there to remind us of and bring us closer to our shared humanity.
And so I think this is what religion ultimately is there for, too. God? Sure, yes. But we, as humans, and our human questions, and our humanity, and our divinity within our humanity – that’s what it’s really all about.