Remembering the Dead

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I have posted excerpts from Abbie Graham’s, Ceremonials of Common Days before.

This little book is almost a century old, and while not overtly religious is one of the most spiritually healing books I own. Graham is not well-known. I had never heard of her when I plucked this book on a whim at a library book sale. Without that happy chance, I am certain I’d go through my life never knowing her. This book that calms me, inspires me, provokes my creativity and gives me hope in the dark, I almost passed by.

At this time of the year, Halloween/All Saints/All Souls/Dia de los Muertos, when the recently dead and the ancestors call out for remembrance, Graham has this to say to me. I hope it is meaningful all around.

 

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When the kingdoms of the world have passed before me, I close my eyes that I may perceive that mightier kingdom, the kingdom of the spirit. I re-see people in terms of spiritual values.

I see people in human forms and all of the material creation as scaffolding for the spirit. When the human spirit is ready to be launched on the infinite seas, the scaffolding will be thrown aside and the spirit will slip out to sea, unencumbered, yet grateful it will be for the things of the earth that prepared it for its long voyage. All things will be hallowed that helped to shape it for that eternal launching.

Sacred, for me, will be the western prairies, the mountain streams, the lake paths, the sunrises seen above neighboring chimneys, the quiet walks along a village street, the gardens, the fragrance of old-fashioned flowers, the moonlight falling in my room, and rain at night with trees blowing.

How much these things and others shall have shaped my spirit, I shall not know, but of their daily fashioning I am aware. As my spirit, dominant and eternally adventurous, shall enter the vast seas, I shall not forget the sacramental service of the scaffolding of earth.

To all the newly departed, I say, “Bon Voyage!”

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Ceremonials of Common Days, Abbie Graham (1923)

Every letter is something of a miracle. A soul dictates its thoughts. Queer markings appear on a piece of paper. The paper is sealed and stamped. Other signs are placed on the outer covering. The little packet is intrusted [sic] to utter strangers. It arrives. It is translated by another soul. It may transform a day–those hieroglyphics of a soul.

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This book-find was providential. I stumbled upon it at the library used book department.

It is a short book by an author I’d never heard of, but just a glance through the pages showed me not just a kindred spirit, but a mentor, a way-shower who teaches me to revel in the sacredness of mundane daily life. This is a spiritual book without theology or sectarian divides, celebrating ordinary aspects of the daily round from the playful to the profound. As such, Graham is quick to define charged words so as not to be misinterpreted:

Soul and Heaven will have no philosophical nor theological connotation. Soul will be used as a symbol to represent the most important part of a person, the part that is admitted into Heaven. Heaven will refer to the place we think of when we think very quickly, before we have the opportunity to consult any second-hand information. A Ceremonial may be interpreted as a spiritual obeisance to the created beauty of the world.

The word Ceremonial as Graham uses it is something you create either in your mind while waiting for an appointment or on the train or a physical act you do alone or for someone. A Ceremonial is a way of thanking, acknowledging, of gratitude. Her words are simple, but deep and descriptive.

Divided into four sections corresponding to the four seasons, Graham starts with Winter and Christmas Eve when “Love is clothed with visible vestments, with gifts and written words…The love that through the year is silenced by ‘busy-ness’ is expressed in terms of tangible beauty. Christmas Eve is the Ceremonial of Gifts, of gifts that are given to explain something which the heart cannot say.”

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Graham leaves space to create your own ceremonials.

In Spring she celebrates The Day of the First Fruits of My Garden. “It is a song of joy for created things—joy that a seed planted in the ground will bring forth its fruit in its season; that a dream intrusted [sic] to the soil of a human heart will bring forth its harvest of an hundred fold.”

In the Spring there are also Vagabond Rites that take place on trains, walks through town, pilgrimages to a favorite orange orchard. The “pretentious rites” are those of train travel that involve overnights where the newness of views out the window, food prepared differently, the company of strangers is a Ceremonial that “loosens up tightened soil and conserves wonder.”

Graham writes with touching tenderness about writing letters on New Year’s Eve, the kindness of Pullman car porters, of coffee, fountain pens and the desire to free all the balloons from the balloon man, because they belong to the sky.

In Summer, there is the Liturgy of Common Things like coffee, for instance.

The Coffee Ceremonial is observed at breakfast following the first night of camping out in summer. The only requirement is that there must be enough and to spare…Good coffee is good, not because of blends or grades but because of sociability and leisure. The best coffee is Sunday morning coffee, or camp coffee, or afternoon coffee, or after-dinner coffee, or coffee which is drunk on some such unhurried social occasion. The Ceremonial of Coffee is, therefore, a Ceremonial of Comradeship.

In Summer, there is also the Ceremonial of Hotel Stationary, made possible by the hotel management who also gives you “pen, ink, blotters and mail box.”

All year round there is the Ceremonial of Sundays, called specifically, The Festival of Beauty, of Loved Things, of Leisure, and of Worship.

I reserve for it whatever I most enjoy—flowers, blue china at breakfast, books, important letters, special walks, colored candles at supper and waffles, pine incense and colored flames in my fire. On Sunday I would not do any work, not say nor think nor do unworthy things. I may this day announce to the people who I like the fact that I do like them.

Autumn brings Thanksgiving and the Ceremonial of Being Glad for People, not necessarily people she knows well, but the anonymous children she passes who play in the street, shop owners, porters on trains, post office employees who make letter-writing possible, musicians, nurses—

for those whom I know only through the printed page, for those who have designed certain buildings and parks and monuments, who have constructed roads, for those who sit in offices and plan for the well-being of the world, for the people around the world who work that I may have the necessities of life.

For Thanksgiving is an articulate season, a time for expressing the unspoken things of the heart. The Ceremonial of Being Glad for People was the initial ceremonial. Because of it the other ceremonials were made necessary.

The end of Autumn brings her full-circle when it is time for the first fire, which marks winter. “The Ceremonial of My First Fire, belongs to the gods…All the gods who have ever been worshiped through the medium of fire are summoned to this Festival of Fire. (my little wood fire) is no longer an ordinary receptacle for burning wood, it is consecrated with a loveliness that shall make it worthy of the comradeship of a winter.”

Ceremonials of Common Days though published in 1923, reminds me of what I call today’s ‘gratitude movement,’ a daily practice of declaring joy and thankfulness for the ordinary bounty of our lives. I like this perspective, because I think the ordinary and the mundane are underrated. Little miracles occur everyday, but we step over them, ignore or see past them, because we expect something bigger. I love that Graham reminds me that my small little life is bigger than I realize and to realize that is itself a miracle!

Have you ever come across something—a book, a painting, some music that affected you to the extent that it reflected your desire for something deeper or revealed another way of finding meaning in your life at a time when you were vulnerable or at a crossroad?

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My Edition
Title: Ceremonials of Common Days
Author: Abbie Graham
Publisher: The Womans Press
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1923
Pages: 97
Summary

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