November is traditionally the month for remembering; for remembrance services and the lighting of candles; special prayers and the blessing of graves.
Dr Lynn Bassett, a hospice chaplain and friend of the Art of Dying Well, shares her thoughts on remembering and light.
November is a month for remembering – we have Armistice day, All Saints and All Souls, special prayers for loved ones, remembrance services and blessing of graves.
When we remember we bring to mind someone or something; we draw on our memories. But, of course, because we’re human beings, what we remember with our minds evokes feeling in our hearts and in our bodies.
Memories may feel warm and comforting – they may fill us with joy, or they may be filled with sadness, sorrow and regret – they may make us feel low. And that’s where our feelings often translate to bodily aches and pains. For example, we know that it is possible for people to die of a broken heart.
I read that in Hebrew, to remember means more than simply bringing to mind. When God remembers his people, he also does something for them – he brings them out of exile or he gives the gift of a child to barren women. When God remembers us, he does something for us as well.
I often wonder, in that great moment of the inception of the eucharist at the Last Supper, when Jesus took bread and wine – simple ingredients on the Passover table – as instruments of remembrance – whether there was something of his own human hope that he would be remembered and his mission passed on, as well as a desire to gift his disciples some way of keeping his memory alive when he was gone.
We Catholics believe that in the mystery of the Consecration, Jesus is made truly present in the simple elements of bread and wine and so, each time we come to Mass we do not only remember him but find him tangibly present with us as strength and nourishment for all that we face in our daily lives.
When we feel lost and low and broken because we have lost someone dear to us, this presence of Jesus may offer some comfort and consolation. Light in our darkness perhaps.
This brings me on to my second theme – light in the darkness. It is not coincidence perhaps that as the days shorten, human beings have found symbols of light to remind us of the hope that lies beneath our cold and bleak winter world, Hope for brighter light and shoots of new life that will break through as spring comes again.
It is a theme we find in the psalms: ‘My soul waits of the Lord like a watchman for daybreak’ and it is echoed in cultures and religions across the world. We have recently had the colourful celebration of Divali, and Chanuka and Christmas are not so far away.
At this time, churches and hospices invite us to light up a life celebrations so that we can remember together, those who have been important to us. By remembering, we keep their memories alive and, by bringing them to mind we too can somehow keep their presence in our lives.
Often we light candles as a sign of remembering and, like the remembrance of God, we do something too. As we light the candle we say a prayer for that person that they may be enjoying the marvellous light of heaven.
The candle light reminds us that we too have the opportunity to share the light of hope, that we carry, with others. When you are in a dark place, the warmth of a smile or a kind word can mean a lot.
It may feel that our own light is very small and insignificant in times of much darkness but each time it is shared, it is not halved but doubled. Together we really can make a difference.
Image of remembrance poppies courtesy of Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk