< Back

Julie Dunstan

All Saints’ Day
Choral Healing Service
St Marylebone

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely… Hebrews 12

I love this time of year – when dying leaves and lengthening nights and the remembrance of those who have gone before us, souls and saints, point to the mystery beyond what we can readily see or easily accept.

I want to start this brief reflection by reading one of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver, busking on the theme of autumn and mystery: – in which the ‘unmattering’ of autumn points to deeper matters…

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,
the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back
from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere
except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle
of unobservable mysteries — roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This
I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn
flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay — how everything lives, shifting
from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.
Fall Song Mary Oliver, American Primitive (1984)

I recall the first time someone offered me the link between the seasons and the spiritual journey. I was deeply impressed by how beautifully descriptive it was; how easily it helped me to understand and believe in the mystery of Christ. Dying and living, autumn and spring, poverty of spirit and the breaking in of God’s kingdom.

Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…

Autumn’s mood and mystery is a good time of year to reflect on healing.

I think when we pray for healing, we sometimes imagine that if it really ‘worked’ we would find ourselves inside the perfect spring day or the ease of summer. And indeed, the promise of spring is there in every healing, but sometimes only in the deep but very real reassurance of the mystery and presence of Christ.

The Saints knew that mysterious consolation even as they endured excruciating trials; the
raging fires of summer, the tempest floods of autumn, the impossibly barren womb of winter and death.

Most of us will not have quite such dramatic seasons. Most of us have not been given the
intensely difficult vocation of those great prophets and saints of whom Paul writes in that letter to the Hebrews we heard this evening. But we, too, wait with all creation for a new
heaven and a new earth: for all things to finally be made new.

But for now, I believe that we can receive something substantial of this promise; in those moments of deep consolation given against all odds; in those graced glimpses of new life, even in a dark season; in the embrace of love when all else fails.

But only, I think, IF we allow ourselves to live that season in faith and not try to produce hot–‐house growth in winter or insist on lighting every night with artificial lamps before we have a chance to learn to see in the dark.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for – the conviction of things not yet seen.

If we allowed both nature and the church’s season to teach us, we might approach our prayer for healing tonight a bit differently.

What if our healing tonight – and we are all in need of healing – what if we could see healing as the grace to find the mystery of life within and beneath our suffering. What if we opened to healing by neither clinging to nor rejecting anything but enduring in faith what is ours to
endure – looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Such was the joy set before him … and such is our joy: that through (and not despite!) the crosses we carry is
unbelievable freedom and life.

What if healing were less like instant spring and more like those leaves on the autumn tree,
simply letting go its grip on one season, and entering the great mystery of dying and living:
mourning and being comforted; being vulnerable, feeling what we feel, accepting what
is, in the strength of faith, hope and love.

Whether we come tonight grieving and in need of comfort; sick and seeking health; disillusioned or disquieted; barren or bewildered. Christ will be there, waiting to meet
us. Waiting to bring us to a joy greater than cure or superficial comfort; the joy of knowing our lives – just as they are – are caught up in the eternal mystery of everlasting love.

2 years ago to the week, my mother died. In Michigan, where we stood around her bedside
saying our goodbyes, the leaves were crimson with suffering and golden with prayer. There
was, at this threshold of death, as there often is, a glimpse into the mystery; a profound
sense of the beyond. The autumn colours bore witness, somehow, to the paradox.

Whatever might bring us forward for healing tonight, the remedy is always and forever the same; the mystery of Christ –‐ in and around and beneath all that we suffer; the God who went into the darkness like the ‘unmattering back’ of leaves – ‘underfoot, mouldering;
like roots and sealed seeds and the wanderings of water’; the God who descended into
black subterranean castles and emerged into the bright vision of an eternal Spring.

Therefore… let us lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely.

What if sin were not those moral misdemeanours we beat ourselves up about but anything
that blocks the life and love of God –‐ including the way we cling to how we think life ought to be instead of trusting the love that will carry us through and bring us even nearer to God
through it. What if sin were hankering after the past or the future – instead of receiving the sacrament of the present moment, inside which all eternity is found.

Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, we dare to come
for healing: we dare to be poor in Spirit, to know our need of God; we dare to be those who mourn, without pretence or defence; we dare to be humble, to desire peace, to thirst for
the goodness of God; for ourselves and for others.

We come for healing in and through our wounds and our hunger and our poverty and our
grief and our longing for justice. It is the only place God can meet us. Everything else is our
own efforts to be good enough or strong enough or clever enough or holy enough.

In the memorable words of Leonard Cohen, ‘Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in
everything. That’s how the light gets in.’

Let’s offer ourselves this evening, letting the cracks of our lives be the very place the light of
God’s love can shine through. Letting the dying of the leaves be the season of blazing
colour.

…everything living, shifting
from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of God.

J L Dunstan
1 November 2015