Ayla Lepine, St James’s Associate Rector, talks about All Souls’ Day and hope.
The clocks have changed, giving us more light in the mornings and more hours of evening darkness. Each year I forget the strangeness of dusk in the late afternoon, and approach it with mixed emotions. I try to embrace the way the evening enfolds us. I also count the days until we pass through the next equinox and everything gets a bit brighter, minute by minute. In this season, as we approach Advent, I find I turn to Compline far more in my prayers. (If you’d like to try Compline at St James’s, the Compline group meet online every night at 9pm.)
In 18th-century London, Horace Walpole, who founded the genre of the ‘Gothic novel’ with his spooky tale The Castle of Otranto, coined the word ‘gloomth’. A mixture of gloom and warmth, it suggests something not dissimilar from the line in Dylan Thomas’s ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ about the ‘close and holy darkness’. On Wednesday 2 November, there will be an All Souls Eucharist at St James’s. Names of departed loved ones will be read, the atmosphere will be solemn, the darkness will be close and holy, and there will be candles shining with their glowing presence on the altar. When we proclaim at the Eucharist ‘all things come from you, and of your own do we give you’, we may be reminded that just as we are made in the image of God, our lives on this planet are filled with beauty and hope as well as suffering and loss. On the threshold of life and death, we walk by faith towards the light of eternal life. Even when we walk in the darkness of grief and bereavement, perhaps we can find space to listen to what the Spirit, the Comforter, can offer us. Psalm 139 can be a psalm for All Souls: the souls of those we mourn and our souls travelling within us each day:
‘If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.’
One of the Church’s All Souls prayers can resonate with the words of this psalm for us, allowing sorrow to take its course within the greater promise that Christ offers to all in the broken-hearted, broken open sacrifice of love: ‘Through his resurrection from the dead you have given us new birth into a living hope, into an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading.’ Every candle lit in the autumn darkness, every star in the sky, and every heart of those living and departed is part of God’s creation. At this time, we can give thanks for the gift of eternity itself, and for the resurrection’s way of offering the gift of eternity to us all.