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Saints are no different from the spirits Pagans connect with to this day on the eve of Samhain. They are the dead who are inexplicably with us.
The Christian holy-day All Saints is really a pre-Christian (pagan) holiday reclaimed. Shocking! Say it isn’t true! The truth is most pre-Christian holidays morphed into reclaimed Christian holy-days. My favorite is All Saints. Traditionally pagans celebrated a day called Samhain, what we typically call “All Hollows Eve” or Halloween. Samhain was the beginning of the New Year and on the eve of the coming year it was believed that the veil between life and death, this life and the next, was thin.
I have some Pagan friends.* I love them. Their traditions inform and challenge mine. Recently during Samhain I asked them to listen for my Baba. Yes, an ordained minister asked her “witch” friends to keep an eye out for my former babysitter Dorthy Sponholz who I lovingly called Baba.
And then without any trouble I led an All Saints Day Christian gathering and preached about my pagan friends’ very real connections to the dead. It was a beautiful gathering during which we honestly laid our thanksgiving filled grief before one another in community. Again: Shocking! Pagan and Christian practices mingle. Call the Orthodox Police!
I would like to think we have come a long way from the days when “Christians” use to burn their pagan neighbors at the stake.
Too often people believe that saints are some or all of the following: famous, martyred, miracle performers, extremely pious to the point of weird, dressed in long robes and huge crosses. Wrong. Saints are the very real and ordinary people in our lives who simply loved us to God and then died. Some saints are famous. But most are not. My beloved Saint Baba was not an extraordinary person. In fact, she was simple. But her simple love transformed me.
Saints are no different from the spirits Pagans connect with to this day on the eve of Samhain. They are the dead who are inexplicably with us. How we understand this “with us” is debatable, but to me insignificant. This All Saints Day my dear friends helped me understand that I did not need them to connect me with my beloved Baba. Instead, I was already connected to her. I have always been in communication with Baba through what I call prayer since her death 25 years ago. I just didn’t know it because my Christian forbearers were trying to hide their pagan roots. My religious leaders didn’t let me know how close the living and the dead mingle, probably because they had no idea themselves.
In remembrance of All Saints Day, in thanksgiving for my dear pagan friends, and in celebration of all the ordinary saints and their transformative love I would like to tell you my favorite Baba story.
One morning my mother dropped me off early to Baba’s house; she had a meeting. Baba fed me breakfast at her Formica kitchen table and then it was time to catch the bus. It was pouring. I put on my rain jacket, but even my hood could not keep the rain from pouring down my neck. Instead of waiting at the edge of Baba’s driveway, I ran back to Baba’s porch. When the bus came it did not see me and passed by, leaving me with no ride to school. Drenched, I walked back into Baba’s house, afraid she might be angry. I confessed I had missed the bus.
I now know this was one of my best mistakes for it turned into a great adventure. Baba didn’t want to wake her husband Carl. She decided she would drive me to school.
Baba hadn’t driven in 15 years. Her husband Carl did all the driving in their old brown station wagon. I was a bit scared when Baba put on her coat and boots and tied a plastic bag around her recently set short curls. We hurried to the safety of the brown wagon and Baba started her up. I sat beside her in the front seat, watching the road intently, certain Baba needed my pair of eyes. The wipers could not keep up with the deluge of water. Baba and I were silent for a moment as she pulled out and started down the road, the squeak of the wipers the only sound in the deafening rainfall. And then Baba laughed. I don’t know the last time I’ve drove! The car feels so heavy. Was that a bad thing I asked? No, no. I just don’t remember it being so heavy. And then she laughed some more.
On the rest of that adventuresome ride to my elementary school, I was aware that I was the only person Baba would drive for. I was the one Baba loved best. The love present in that rainy morning 29 years ago sustains me today.
Remember your ordinary saint and bask in their love this day.
*I had a long discussion on just what to call my friends. One is druidic, the other earth centered, the other a hearth witch. Just as Christianity is diverse so are the practices of the many folks who practice ancient pre-Christian religions. I have chosen to use the term Pagan 1) because I am not using it in a derogatory way 2) because there seems no single unifying term 3) because then my readers will know what I am talking about! If you at all are offended by my use of the word Pagan, please don’t be. Instead send me a comment to tell me which word you think I should use. Thank you.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.