This morning, I searched ‘Vanderbilt University’ in my phone’s photos app to look at all the pictures I’ve taken of my children at church over the years. We attend St. Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel, which meets on Vanderbilt’s campus, thus my search terms. Most of the photos of our kids at church over the years were taken during the Christmas pageant (not surprising!) or in the magnolia trees right outside of the chapel (hilarious!). I don’t know about you, but my boys have the permission of both their parents and their church community to hightail it out of the sanctuary right after they receive communion to start playing outside. Their little spirits just can’t take any more formal forms of worship, particularly when a beautiful fall day beckons. They need to run, to dirty the collared shirts we forced them to wear for the service. My photo collection tells me the truth that year after year, after they’ve tasted the bread and sipped the wine, to the trees they must go.
Me, too. When I wake up in the morning, I take my coffee out to the back porch and look at the branches. When I’m lost in thought at work and longing to be outside, the place I long for is one where I can gaze upward at the blue sky through the lacework of a tree’s leaves. What is it about trees and humans? Like humans and dogs, trees and humans seem to be companions that are just meant for one another.
As the end of another church year draws to a close, I remember that death and time separate me from both my beloved ancestors and the descendants I long to know. I find myself reflecting on a symbol and motif found throughout the world’s cultures and religious traditions: the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life reminds me that I am interconnected spiritually throughout generations.
Like the Tree of Life, the period of Allhallowtide reminds us that we are connected ‘beyond the veil’ to those who have come before us and those who will come after us. Last year I wrote about preparing for Allhallowtide, the brief but sacred period of time when the veil between this life and the next is especially diaphanous. Here’s a quick reminder of the roots of this three-day period:
- Connected to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween (October 31) occurs halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. Mark this time with bonfires, having food and drink outside, and—of course—going door-to-door for treats!
- A major feast day for the church, All Saints’ Day (November 1) is a time to honor those saints known to us and those saints we know in our hearts. All Saints’ Day is a time to give thanks for those who have used their lives to orient us toward The Way of Love.
- And All Souls’ Day, All Faithful Departed, or Día de Muertos (November 2) commemorates those who have departed through altars or ofrendas, storytelling, and feasting.
Yes, we will have costumes, trick-or-treating, and services to mark Allhallowtide this year. But I also plan to pay close attention to the spiritual significance of the trees around our family. I long to thank them for the healing, protection, and beauty they offer. I want to thank those strong magnolias near our place of worship for letting the boys climb up and safely down them throughout their childhoods. And perhaps most of all, I want to offer thanksgiving for the way that trees connect all of us to the spaces below, above, and beyond.
As we embark on another Allhallowtide with our families and friends, may we remember the connections we share with ancestors and even to those yet to be born. May we tend intergenerational relationships with thoughtfulness and care. And may we take a moment to pause and thank the trees that show young and old how to spread out our arms in communion with the great beyond.
[Editor’s note: Last year, I reviewed Bonnie’s book Seasons of Wonder and found myself turning to her section on Allhallowtide just a few days ago to see how we might intentionally observe these three holy days as a family. A few days before that, Seasons of Wonder came up in conversation at my clergy conference. It’s been such a gift to deepening our family’s faith life this year. If you’ve not yet purchased a copy of her book, here is the link so you might do so today! —Allison, ed.]