As the clocks go back and the evenings draw in, the natural world offers us an opportunity to take the pace of life that little bit slower – should we choose to take it! At the end of October and the beginning of November are two significant occasions for remembering.
The traditions of the church invite us to mark All Saints' Day – an opportunity to remember with thanksgiving the saints who have gone before us and, within the Protestant tradition, the church universal. This is a significant day for looking back with more than nostalgia "for the old days". It is about recognising the gifts and legacy that we have inherited from our ancestors in faith and how that has shaped and informed who we are and how we express that faith today. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes this,
"... Stand by the truths you have learned and are assured of. Remember from whom you learned them; remember that from early childhood you have been familiar with the sacred writings which have power to make you wise and lead you to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ." (2 Timothy 3:14-15 (REB))
Remembering the saints is a different focus from Hallowe'en with its obsession with the darker side of life (and death), which is now perhaps somewhat trivialised in the rituals of fancy dress and the collecting of confectionery from neighbours. Originally the idea was to set lights to help wandering spirits find their way to a resting place, but there are equally links with the Celtic festival of Samhain which marked the end of the summer and prayers that would guard both people and livestock through the winter.
The second occasion for remembrance is Remembrance Sunday itself, when we rightly remember those who gave "their today so that we could have a tomorrow": those thousands of men and women across so many nations, the majority of them volunteering to serve their country and who died in a cause they believed in. It seems to me, someone in my early sixties, the product of one grandfather who served in the Royal Navy and one grandfather who served as a Fire Warden in keeping with his calling as a conscientious objector, that the significance of this day is changing with the years.
For those who have never experienced living in a country threatened by imminent invasion; those whose likelihood of serving in the armed forces depends on a career choice rather than on conscription (for however brief a period); those who have been brought up to challenge the power and the political decisions of government, the emphasis perhaps shifts to acknowledging the complexity of the world situation in which we live and no longer recognises a simple right and wrong.
It is also appropriate, I believe, to remember the numerous men, women and children who die every day from lack of clean water, fresh food and preventable disease. Whatever our personal views about defence spending and this country's involvement in armed conflict, it is appropriate to both remember and pledge ourselves to 'a life of love in action' and to live as peacefully as possible with our fellow human beings.