“If we are honest, we acknowledge that we are dying throughout our life, and this is what we learn if we are attentive: grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.” ~Fr. Richard Rohr
Few people realize that the ancient church’s All Hallows Eve (“Hallow-e’en”) and All Saints Day were intentionally focused on both harvest and death, not in mindless emulation of pagan traditions, but for healthy, meaningful reasons.
Harvest festivals celebrate the ingathering of fruits and grains. And yet, at the same time, all around the town are the now-dead crops that produced them. Sad? No. Because this means they’ve accomplished their purpose, borne their fruits, and now rest in the earth. It’s a healthy perspective, one of death as fulfillment, not fear, as a time of rest and, although it cannot yet be seen, of a coming resurrection in the spring.
People too complete their work, die, and rest in the earth, All Hallows Eve reminds us. And yet they too will be resurrected one day. Therefore, on All Saints Day, those who’ve completed their purpose in life are honored (the Latin world’s two-part Day of the Dead stems from this idea, as well). And for those whose souls are less secure, the predecessor to trick-or-treating emerged:
On All Hallows Eve, the poor, especially children, would knock on doors, offering to pray for the souls of the family’s dead, and would be rewarded with sweet, fruit-filled little “soul cakes.” One spiritual-minded baker even put holes in her soul cakes, making them into circles representing eternity (and in the process inventing doughnuts!).
So let us refuse to surrender All Hallows Eve to that dark, unhealthy fear of death as something evil, something to be feared. Richard Rohr was right: one of the best ways to celebrate life is to acknowledge death as a grace, as a rest, a passage. For without death, there is no completion of this life’s purpose, no resurrection to the life to come. But for those whose souls are truly at rest, death is not an end…
It’s a doorway.