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October 6, 2013

By Sharon Gallagher, Associate Director, NCB

   We’ve now passed through our September Indian Summer; the evening air is suddenly crisp. October evokes images of harvest-time. Leaving a New College Berkeley class one recent evening, a friend pointed out a harvest moon, round and golden, shining on us as it has on newly mowed fields for centuries. It would have been a perfect moon for Halloween on the suburban cul-de-sac of my childhood, a time when it was still safe for children to go trick-or-treating. As a “big kid” (8-12 years old) I assumed one of two personas. One was gypsy: a colorful skirt, a scarf, and big jangling earrings. The other was beatnik: black tights, beret, and big jangling earrings. Both costumes were easily assembled.

   One year, as a young adult in Berkeley, I decided to host a Reformation Day party instead of celebrating Halloween. I wore a long peasant dress and painted the sliding glass doors of the apartment to look like stained glass. (Creating the stained glass was fun; spending the next two weeks cleaning the windows, not so much.) I believe we drank hot cider and sang songs by Martin Luther.

   Now, I’m thinking about All Saints’ Day, celebrated on November 1, the day after Halloween. There are many cultural variations on the meaning of this day. Since the7th century this has been the day Roman Catholics celebrate all their saints.

   I grew up in a church that believed in the “priesthood” of all believers—that we are all saints. Paul made this point in his letter to the Ephesians:

   “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens. But you are citizens with the saints, and also members of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19).

   On All Saints’ Day, many Protestants, believing that all Christians are saints, celebrate the worldwide church. But the “worldwide church”or “all saints” seem like vague categories. I do not, in fact, remember all saints, but I do remember some saints who have a special place in my personal canon.

   This year I’ll celebrate All Saints’ Day by remembering saints (fellow Christians) whose paths have crossed mine. Praying parents and grandparents, teachers and mentors who showed me what a living and dynamic faith looks like. People who visited me when I was sick, who encouraged me when I needed it. People who exemplified the gentle virtues of humility, kindness, and compassion.

   In “Writing Your Journey” (the NCB class I'm teaching this fall) we’ve been talking about the importance of memory. The people of Israel were repeatedly asked to remember God’s past care for them, because they forgot so quickly. Remembering the saints in my life is one way I remember God’s continuing care.

Sharon Gallagher (M.T.S.) is associate director and professor of Christianity and the Media at New College Berkeley. She is also editor of Radix magazine and recently edited Where Faith Meets Culture: A Radix Anthology. (October, 2013)

Posted on October 6, 2013 at 10:56 PM

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