Thank you, God, that I did not gow up in fear based christianity. I was born in a small village in the Sauerland (“sour land”) in Germany and my mom was devoted to the Mother of God, Mary. She taught me to pray the important prayers and she took me with her to sunday mass (we mostly went the evening before), to sunday verspers meeting, to rosary prayer meetings in octobre and Mary, Queen of May, prayer meetings in May, we honored the holidays (holy days) and the feast days of saints, Germany has many a no-working- holiday because of Catholicism.
But my Mama was not uptight and hard on me. In fact she only showed me Catholicism, living it, she didn’t preach or teach. The theology happened in school or later via books (as a child I wasn’t able to listen to a sermon – too boring.) When I didn’t want to join her – and of course I didn’t want to many a time – she was okay with it as long as I went to Sunday mass. And, again thank you, my God, I never encountered anything of the darker sides of this ‘church’ – no harsh threats by mentioning hell and sin and eternity, no sexual abuse, no mean words about the nature of girls and women. Hell was an eternity away – except for this time of the year. Halloween was not known yet. We would go to church on All Saints’ Eve because my mom was okay with me sleeping in. There all the saints would be celebrated. A long litany of their names mentioned, all of them asked to pray for us, to help us, to be with us. I knew a lot about them because in our almost book free house (money was tight) I had a big big book with all the saints legends. I liked many of them, many I found boring, some I disliked. It was like a large family. Saint Simon the Stylite my favourite uncle (imagine! He stood on a pillar! For years! Crazy Uncle Simon, ahem, holy Simon pray for me (maybe I can be a pillar girl ?!)) All Saints’ Day was the cozy family meeting.
But the next day was All Souls’ Day. Now that had a totally different taste. When I was a kid I loved Christmas and Easter Sunday the most – because of the gifts, lol, like most children do (obviously Saint Simon didn’t help me to become saintly concerning that) but then I loved All Souls’ Day most. The week before, my mother and I would go to the graveyard and take all the last flowers off of the grave of my granddad and grandma. We put a beautiful arrangement of conifere and holly branches there and put an oil candle in the little lamp on the soil. On All Saints Day we would light up the candle and say a prayer and then on All Souls’ Day the community met in the church and after prayers would walk to the graveyard, two minutes, and gather around the graves of our former priests. We gathered there because there wasn’t a chapel and because the yard of those graves was a circle and so we build a circle around the priest who held this prayer meeting (I liked our priest very much) and the altar boys who carried the sacred water. We would pray for all who had died, last year, many years ago, ever, for all those who had died but were not with God. I imagined them all coming into our circle. There was no explaining then but I understood that being without God when dead was very very undesirable. Yet I never shivered and never feared, because – duh! We prayed for them all – I was totally and completely convinced that God would listen and all Souls would be saved.
I didn’t get it completely why that was not in the same instant and we re-gathered again year after year but well, that didn’t shake my belief. After praying the priest would take the holy water, and he would sprinkle it on every single grave saying a prayer that I never understood, he mumbled it, but for me the veil was thin, God, the dead, the living, we all were present on the graveyard and I knew: It would be good. It will be good, all will be good, it will all be good. I felt a deep silence, every soul in thankful peace – almost like Christmas night. The daylight would fade while we stood on the graveyard and the darkness of the night came and all the little lights on the graves would shine and move and twinkle. Even on the graves that nobody cared for anymore those tending the neighbouring graves had lightened a candle. Nobody forgotten,nobody left behind. This is Christian love as I understand it: Nobody forgotten, nobody left behind.
I am so thankful that my mother spared me all the details of judgement and hell. Not sure how I would have reacted. I grew up knowing that God loves us all and all will be good in the end. No one will be forgotten, no one be left behind. And I am still convinced of this concerning our lifes after death, no matter what the church teaches in her catechism. Oh, I said HER catechism. This is a whole other post.
When I was in my 20s Halloween came to Germany because of aggressive marketing. It was embraced because we all had seen it in American movies and Tom and Jerrry, Bugs Bunny shows. I remember the first time the door rang and two girls dressed as witches looked at me a little afraid and also excited. I gave them two chocolate bars and end of the week I found a thank you letter in my mailbox. That’s Halloween for me – joyful connection.
Now – the thin veils of Halloween, part of so many beautiful paths of the modern pagan traditions – yes, maybe, I don’t know. It is not what I have experienced. I have experienced that the veil is thin when I want it thin, it thins with my prayers, my leaning towards my ancestors, dear ones long gone, not so long gone. It thins with the darker season, at night time, with silence. But there is no harm in making a festival for that. Let the awareness of our connectedness begin, yes!
I was in my late 20s when some day my Mom on the way back from Holy Mass opened up her heart and told me that there was a group of women in the village who would give away little booklets and cd’s with sermons or stories about the “poor souls”, the souls in limbo or hell. She nearly started crying and mentioned how somebody was able to see them, and how they cried and begged. And what if they got no help and what if we were to become such a poor soul too. At that time I had read a lot in the catechism and I knew what was told about hell and poor souls and sometimes I had fear too. But in that moment when my Mom was so in distress, I just put my hand on her arm and stopped walking to look her into the eye and I said: Mom! Do you really believe that Jesus Christ, and that Mother Mary, and the Saints and the Guardian Angels and all the good Beings on earth and in heaven leave those souls there, alone and in pain? Do you really believe that they will be left behind and forgotten? By God? And she looked at me and took a deep breath and then said: “I do not know. I wish I had your faith.” “I hand you over my faith, we can share my faith. You gave me yours, now I give you back from what God let grow out of it. Let’s just trust in his love.” “Yes.” She said, she, raised in a fear based Christianity, “yes!”