Lantern of the Ancestors

Sermon in church yesterday was exactly what I needed.

I was late, somehow, even though I made the decision to stay up later and make the 8:30 am service instead of snatching 3 hours sleep before the 10:30 am; distraction set in, and then I’m running out the door at 8:25, which is fine as it’s a five-minute drive, only to be confronted by a car covered in frost and nearly frozen shut. Winter is hard on us perpetually late people.

I snuck in during a song and found a space on a pew; no one was angry with me, but still I felt embarrassed. I keep telling myself that I am going to make a change, and then it’s Sunday morning and I’m late to church and sitting there with an empty stomach, always a bad idea before communion with real wine.

The pews are hard, even with the cushion I always ask for. I can feel the wood in my butt, my back, my legs. I stand as much as I can during the service, but that is difficult too. Luckily no kneeling is required; I would not fit anyway, between the narrow pews. But this discomfort is small, and it does not detract, it is not reason to quit. I feel much of the same discomfort in my daily life. It is part of life for me, now.

The 8:30 crowd is older than the 10:30 crowd, no doubt because the 10:30 service includes Sunday School and thus is more popular for people with young children. The woman in front of me had hair that reminded me of my Oma’s, and she wore red, Oma’s favourite colour.

I always think of Oma at this time of year. Today is Sinterklaas Day, known to many as “Dutch Christmas”. It’s an ancestor day for me now, but someday I hope it also becomes something to spend with children.

Yesterday I felt myself wishing I had started going to church when she were still alive, so it would have been something we could have shared, but it wouldn’t have worked. Six years ago I wasn’t in a place where I could have attended church and still remained true to my personal faiths; I wouldn’t have been able to reconcile the two spaces. So really, I found myself wishing she were still alive, so I could sit with her and sing, and pray, and do the things she found such comfort in and returned to with vigor as she lay dying.

I smelled her soap, and felt her sit beside me. I could see her out of the corner of my eye. And next to her for a moment, I thought maybe it was Opa — my step-Opa, the man she married in her 70s — but no, I think where ever he is, if he spends time with her and his first wife, he might draw the line at attending church with either of them. No, it was my Opa Jake, as young as I’ve imagined him, the only way I can picture him, as I have no memories of him at all. He sat as young as he was when he died, holding hands with a much older Oma, who glowed with an ethereal light.

During sermon the priest told a story about a child who has made a present for his family in class, but in his excitement to meet them, trips, and it breaks into a million pieces. He is upset, and he cries, and the parents try to comfort him by saying “You are okay, and it doesn’t matter.” The grandmother picks up the child, and says “It does matter, it matters very much,” and she weeps with him.

In the rest of the sermon she talked about the paradox of freedom and danger, and how the wilderness can be a place of freedom, but also a place of judgement. She talked about how when god’s people felt lost and disconnected from him, they made idols of gold and silver to help connect themselves better to him, until they could learn to trust in him again.

I have grown reliant on my shrine trappings, on the items I use to trick my mind into a religious mindset. There is nothing wrong with using them on a regular basis, there is nothing wrong with using objects and symbols; we are symbolic creatures. But when something such as a flood happens, when my life is upended and my office filled with things so I can no longer access any of my shrines, or my altar; when I am unable to do the physical aspect of religion: the rest falls apart.

There was no Samhain for me, and I have been spending this past month feeling guilty over that, feeling as if I’ve failed the season for the dead. Yet the season has not ended. Sinterklaas Day is Christmas, and it is a time to honor the dead. I am reminded of that by Oma’s presence in church as much as I am reminded by the tiny bottle of gin I have sitting nearby, ready to make a gin and tonic to share with her. (I don’t yet know if I like them, but they were her favourite, so I want to try.)

I teared up multiple times during service yesterday, but none so much as during communion, because I knew she was with me there. I felt her so strongly. And I felt Manannan too.

I realized today why I suddenly felt the need to start attending church this season, and why I’ve started up my Honoring the Mothers project, and why all this is falling into place at once. It is all to do with ancestor honoring, it is all to do with the Mighty Dead who shine light on my life.

“A prophet holds up a lantern to help us find our way,” the priest said today. I feel like a lantern has been shone on my path, and finally things make sense.

I have not failed in not having a Samhain, and I do not need to do a full ritual (though I would like to write one). I do not need the fully done shrine. I can pour out a drink for us all, and simply sit in love with my ancestors and Manannan, and feel at peace in my soul.

I can put my trust in the divine, and rely on faith to get me through, and it is enough.

~Morag


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