All Souls Day

A young woman sits in a sunny room reading from an enormous Bible. Her head is bowed in concentration. Behind her, sitting by the window, is an elderly man, possibly her grandfather. He has nodded off. In an empty chair sits a shadowy figure, maybe the grandmother of the girl, and wife of the man. She is not a ghost but a memory. It is as though the viewer’s eye remembers a time when this is where she sat. She is deceased, and on All Souls Day, and many other days no doubt, she is remembered and missed. We might be caused to think that it will not be long before the man passes away as well, but even when this happens the light and bright tones of this picture suggest a hopeful destination.

The painting is L’Absente (The absent one on All Souls’ Day) 1889,  by Walter MacEwen, an American artist of Scottish descent. MacEwen painted in the Netherlands, his work greatly influenced by paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, particularly Vermeer.



I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

1 Corinthians 15:50-52


Did someone say that there would be an end,
An end, Oh, an end, to love and mourning?
Such voices speak when sleep and waking blend,
The cold bleak voices of the early morning
When all the birds are dumb in dark November—
Remember and forget, forget, remember.

After the false night, warm true voices, wake!
Voice of the dead that touches the cold living,
Through the pale sunlight once more gravely speak.
Tell me again, while the last leaves are falling:
“Dear child, what has been once so interwoven
Cannot be raveled, nor the gift ungiven.”

Now the dead move through all of us still glowing,
Mother and child, lover and lover mated,
Are wound and bound together and enflowing.
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited—
Only the strands grow richer with each loss
And memory makes kings and queens of us.

Dark into light, light into darkness, spin.
When all the birds have flown to some real haven,
We who find shelter in the warmth within,
Listen, and feel new-cherished, new-forgiven,
As the lost human voices speak through us and blend
Our complex love, our mourning without end.

All Souls – May Sarton


Father of all, we pray to you for those we love but see no longer.  Grant them your peace, let light perpetual shine upon them, and in your loving wisdom and almighty power work in them the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Collect of All Souls