Rev. Michelle's Message October 28, 2021

It’s hard to believe the month of October has just about come and gone and it’s time again to prepare for our annual Day of the Dead Candle-lighting and Remembrance Ceremony. I’m sure you have seen our beautiful altar in the sanctuary which is now filled with photographs and mementos you have brought in to share of your loved ones, including beloved pets. I’m always so touched each year, as I notice more and more photographs being brought in for the communal altar. It makes me think back to the first year we did this, when I proposed creating a Day of the Dead altar and gave a talk on Day of the Dead to help people understand what it was all about. People were a bit reluctant that first year, and only a few folks brought in photographs. Each year, as we continue to practice this meaningful tradition and we get more comfortable talking openly about death, more and more people have participated until this year the altar is filled to overflowing. We are learning to grieve together, to share our common human experience of loss, and to open our hearts to the deep connections we build with one another when we engage in communal ritual. Perhaps you have noticed the cempasuchil (marigold) flowers being sold on the street in the more Mexican-populated parts of the peninsula, the pan de muerto (bread of the dead) that has appeared in all the Mexican bakeries, and the calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls) which seem to be just about everywhere these days. If you drive by a cemetery at this time, you will notice the gravestones in the section of the cemetery with Hispanic last names are full of flowers and decorations. This vibrant, colorful, and intriguing tradition of Day of the Dead has fascinated me since I first encountered it when I was living in Mexico in the early 1990s. In 1992 I had the opportunity to travel to Janitzio, a small village on an island in Lake Patzcuaro in the Mexican state of Michoacán, where the tradition is still fully alive and enthusiastically practiced by the indigenous people. As we wandered through the village, every home had their door wide open to reveal the candlelit altar inside. These elaborate ofrendas (literally, offerings to the dead) were filled with fruits, flowers, bread, tortillas, and all manner of delicious-looking prepared foods, bottles of tequila, musical instruments, and photographs. I was powerfully drawn to this beautiful tradition, which was so completely foreign to me and so different from my own way of approaching death, and my lifelong fascination with Day of the Dead was born. It is perhaps impossible for us to fully comprehend or truly enter into the mindset of a different culture, but we can learn about it and let it expand our own perspectives. This quote from the Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, sums up the Mexican view of death: The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his toys and his most steadfast love. True, there is perhaps as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but at least death is not hidden away; he looks at its face. As we have seen in our exploration of the book, The Five Invitations, this month, there is much to be learned from death and much to be gained from maintaining an ongoing awareness of our own mortality, the truth of the impermanence of life. That is what I read in the above quote. Mexicans may fear death just like all other human beings, but they don’t hide it away. They face it head-on, look right at it, and accept it as a natural part of life. But here’s the thing—they don’t do it alone; they do it together. This is what we are learning to do in our own dear community, and over the years we have been practicing this tradition, I have seen some profound healings take place. When we make ourselves vulnerable, what is revealed is our common humanity. I am honored to be part of this wonderful community and look forward to sharing our celebration with you this Sunday. Many Blessings, Rev. Michelle