The beauty of the peony roses has faithfully returned to our garden. The first flower unfurled its petals on All Saints Day. My late maternal grandmother, Doris, especially loved them. She had a June birthday and in the Northern Hemisphere, peonies were always a special gift to her. We didn’t always enjoy the closest of relationships, yet even though I live at the far edge of the known world, her presence is with me as I gaze at this noblest and loveliest of flowers.
I think of her home by the sea, her smile when the peonies were given to her, her work-worn hands, her youthful exuberance, her Scotch broth bubbling away on the stove on a winter’s day. A widow for over fifty years, she had an enduring love for my grandfather, Andrew.
‘You were born together, and together you shall be for evermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God’. (Gibran:23)
November is the season to remember.
The year my father, Joe, died, I sat in the tiny church of St. Mary at Dalmahoy, near Edinburgh on All Souls Day. Alone. Yet with many, I was there for a service of remembrance, to give thanks for those we loved and whose stories we still carried in our hearts.
It was deeply touching and privately moving to hear the names of so many people, spoken aloud and loved for eternity. Death had brought discontinuity, yet somehow we took our place in the company of the communion of the saints, united in heaven and earth, the extraordinary and the ordinary, all blessed.
We remembered the ones who had challenged an unjust peace, a destructive conflict; the ones who had been a goad to apathy, confounded evil and held a belief in the enduring power of God’s love, those who had accepted loss of reputation, injury, even death and embodied, in their vulnerability, the hope to which God had called them.
We remembered the people who had gained no mighty accolades, yet lived, loved and cared, in their own time and place. They guide us to where God’s blessing lies - with the poor, the hungry, the tearful, the bereaved, the gentle, the forgiving, the pure in heart, the faithful, the peacemakers.
Consecrated with standing stones from the 10th and 11th centuries, the walls of St. Mary’s echoed with the prayers of the faithful and the doubting. Afterwards, in the cold dark night, we carried our flickering candle lanterns and walked arm in arm to the small kirk yard where we offered the light we had in this place of presences.
In the Celtic tradition, there is a great sense that those in the eternal world are home. They are with the God from whom they came and they live within the circle of eternity, thought of, as the largest embrace. They are very near to us, mind us and bless us. We cannot see them with the human eye but can feel their presence with us. One of my teachers at University who became an anam cara, a soul friend to me, the Carmelite monk, Fr. Noel Dermot O’Donoghue wrote in his book, The Mountain Behind The Mountain,
‘There is a sense in which...the dead are always present in the elements and in the seasons and changes of nature, being as it were ‘ministering angels’, that is, human beings who are taken into the work of angels in the world ‘beyond’ that is within our everyday world. We meet them, not by ’seeing ghosts’ but by sensing presences that belong with the angels and the timeless presences of heavenly glory and goodness...we, the living, are...their companions on the way, receiving as we give.’ (O’Donoghue:69)
Who are the ones whose names, faces and stories live in your heart...who have loved you for you, stood alongside you, shaped you, nudged you into exploration and new understanding, challenged you to grow, shown you how to live in love?
As they bless you, may you bless them.
Gibran, K., The Prophet, (Oneworld Publications 1998)
O’Donoghue, N.D, The Mountain Behind The Mountain, (T&T Clark 1993)
Image Peony Rose, Clive Oxford
©Hilary Oxford Smith
1 November 2013