Totenfest, All Saints Day, Heroes and Saints

In the main, this is my post for All Saint’s Day from 2012 with a few minor updates. true then, true now, and true as long as we remain who we are.

I’ll bet Totenfest is a new term for many of you, actually, it’s a corrupted spelling of Todtenfest, what it translates as is “Feast (or festival) of the Dead. It has a bit of that German propensity for calling things what they are, like Krankenhaus (house of the sick) for hospital. It comes from the Evangelical church, that strange Prussian hybrid of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches committed by King Frederick Wilhelm III. Totenfest was instituted to remember the soldiers killed in the Prussian war (unless I’m missing something we’re talking about what the rest of us call the Napoleonic Wars). It soon expanded to remember members of the congregation who had passed in the last year.

When I was young my home church (which was Evangelical and Reformed) read the passed member’s names with a single bell toll after each. It was a moving service which served in lieu of All Saints Day, which is now commonly celebrated on the first Sunday in November, as The last Sunday in October is Reformation Sunday. When I was a kid, and it was still the E&R before the merger which formed the UCC, every Sunday the first hymn was this, which is nearly always appropriate, in a version that will feel familiar this year.

The same purpose really, since we in the Protestant tradition tend to refer to those who have gone before us as saints. It is important to remember our forefathers in the faith for the same reason that we all admire the saints in the Catholic tradition. I think our way perhaps makes it even more personal. On that weekend in 2012 Jessica over at The Watchtower said this:

All Souls’ day is a time when I pray for the souls of my parents and other relatives now dead. I know many Protestants who ask me why I do so, as they are now with God, and He alone will judge; do I, they ask, think that somehow my prayers will influence Him. I try to explain that this is not what I believe at all. Yes, I believe God makes the decision, and I don’t believe He will be in the slightest bit influenced by me. But it is an act of piety to my dead parents. They are no longer here in the flesh, but that does not mean I forget them, and praying for them seems to me to be a way of saying that I still love them and still care about them.

I completely agree with her, which is not unusual. This is the time of year when I think a lot about and pray for my parents as well, knowing that God will be just, which is enough for me. But I want the folks to know that I still think of them and care about them, and even that I have remembered the lessons they taught me, about many things. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

I was born when my folks were in their forties, so it wasn’t like dad had time or energy to play with me but, he spent a lot of time with me, or maybe the other way around when I was a kid. Many people think I’m a bit of a hard case, they may well be right. The lessons I learned as a child were all about doing things right always and taking responsibility. Sure I learned about electricity and line work and wiring buildings and a bunch of other skills but, the real lessons were about honesty and justice. With dad you never got unearned praise, in truth not saying anything about what you did was usually all the praise you were going to get, screw up and you heard about it though, guess where I learned the catchphrase, always make new mistakes. Doing it wrong because you just didn’t get it was allowable, doing it wrong again was simply unacceptable, and you learned that quickly. One of the other lessons taught was that bad news is not like wine, it doesn’t get better with age. Learning those two lessons will take you quite a way in this life; there are others.

But, in truth, it’s certainly not about me, and it’s not even about dad, it’s about those who have gone before us in the faith. I find it easier to understand if I personalize, and it’s fun for me to talk about dad. Of all the men I have known in a fairly long life, he more than any of them deserved the title of “Lightbringer” for that is what he did for countless rural families in Minnesota, in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, and in Indiana. From 1935 until he retired in 1969 he was a man of rural electrification.

That was his vocation, his mission, nearly from the time he held his father in his arms as he died and so became the head of the family as a junior in high school, until he retired, with honor. Because we in the family understood, even his pallbearers were linemen, and executives from rural electrification, including the President of the Statewide coop. There was no glory in the mission, it was always a struggle, and to his dying day, he regretted being essential in World War II. But his work enabled dozens, maybe hundreds, of farm boys to join the service, without reducing food output. But he never thought he did his part. In truth, he was the most righteous man I have ever known. No, I don’t mean self-righteous, he was never in it for himself, he was there to serve. The old REA Co-op motto fit him perfectly: “Owned by those we serve”. He didn’t write it, he lived it, it was the mission

The energization of the first house on Kankakee Valley REMC in 1939; courtesy KVREMC

But you know, it wasn’t only him, ever. here’s one of the very few pictures I have from those days, one of the interesting things about it that in the ’60s, many of those pictured here were still on the board of the co-op. I knew most of them, and I wish they were still with us. They too understood the mission. When they couldn’t get the power companies to serve them, they did the thing that d’ Tocqueville had commented on all those years before- they formed an association to do it for them. And they built a very successful business on what the power companies had said could never be done. That’s part of Dad’s story, but you have to multiply that by thousands of these associations all over the country to understand the accomplishment. For what they did was nothing less than bring the American farmer into the 20th century. These were men that you could make a thousand dollar deal with on a handshake, and never worry. Their word really was their bond. As I commented on Jess’s post, there truly were giants in the earth.

But we are talking about saints, well that’s not for us to say, is it? Of all the men in that picture, I know nothing of what church, if any, they attended. Given the make up of the area, I would guess most were Lutheran, Catholic, or Evangelical & Reformed, and Methodists. But I would also bet that many, like dad, were afraid the church would fall down if they entered, and besides they had work to do. I suspect I could count on my hands the number of times that dad attended church, in my lifetime. The other half of that was that we we children and Mom were strongly encouraged to be active members. In fact of the 3 siblings, we have all been officers of our churches. But James 2 tells us:

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

To me, by that standard, they are saints indeed.

It strikes me that maybe some of you may read this as me bragging about my dad, and I have been known to do that. But what I am doing here is giving you an example of a man, who lived his life as he felt God commanded, and did his duty.

My purpose is to remind you of the saints, in your family, who have gone before us to prepare the way and to remind you how much we all have to live up to if we wish to be worthy of our forebears.

Goldilock’s Syndrome

And so it continues! Quick now, while Nightmarish Evil Ogre is spell-bound, read the next of the horrible horror stories!

This is from Dave Smith, a friend of Neo and all of us at the blog


I awoke and immediately went to the light switch on the wall and flipped the switch. And once again nothing happened. There was no consequence of my action; it was ineffective. The room remained eerily lit as though it were dawn. And so I proceed to peer into my bedroom mirror and once again am expectantly met with a face which was not my own reflection. What greets me is a grotesque monstrosity staring back at me with a Mona Lisa-like smile and unexpected movements which frighten me every time I witness it. This is the ritual to which I have grown accustomed. First the light switch and then the mirror-gazing. These are the tests I have developed so that I might differentiate reality from non-reality.
I have lost track of time altogether; for I know not when this began or how long this has been going on. I do remember thinking that it was not dissimilar to Franz Kafka’s experience as witnessed in his famous novella, Metamorphosis and that perhaps his work was merely being mimicked in my mind or worse, that it might be a manifestation of what we call reality. How will I know?
Indeed, I do not know anymore if I am dead or in a coma and have but little hope of returning to that reality from which I started. Or if it even still exists. For I have tried thousands of times to escape this nightmare and hopelessness and despair are my constant companions with each attempt. My life has vanished.
Within my mind, I constantly think of my return to the Goldilock’s Zone of reality. It is not unlike the Goldilock’s Zone spoken of when we think of the placement of the Earth from the Sun; a place just right. It is a place where the temperature is perfect for water and life to exist. A place where the Moon is seen as exactly the same size as the Sun. A place where men contemplate the cosmos, their existence and consciousness itself.
I have now come to see another Goldilock’s Zone as well; that zone between the Micro and the Macro universes of existence. For in the subatomic universe we have no ability to have active consciousness and in the stellar universe, it is impossible as well. We are at the optimal, nay, the only spot in the spectrum that exhibits what we call reality. For reality is merely the ability for creation to self-direct thoughts, actions and reactions to an infinite stretch from the infinitely small to the infinitely large. From the heavenly to the deep dark corridors of hell. It is from this perfect zone from which I have fallen.
And to think that this zone might be lost by such a simple and natural process as sleep. I did wonder at times if that third of life spent in dreams was not akin to going from the last sentence of a book’s chapter to the first sentence of a successive chapter without any notice that perhaps a great deal may have transpired from the last to the next. But somehow we take up where we left off without any thought of lapsed time . . . an enormous percentage of our lives having been spent in slumber. But that is merely what passes for amusement for me these days.
And so I dream. I think that I awake and to my amazement, I can no longer find a way back to my previous life and take up where I left off. My friends and family are lost to me as they are in the Goldilock’s Zone and I reside in a dream within a dream within a dream. My only path is to try to sleep and awake once more until I might find myself back where I began.
But time has stood still or moved so far from where I started that I have lost all measure of it. It is like my dreams have been stacked up like a deck of cards and that I go three cards up or two cards back but never go far enough in one direction to pop out at the top of the deck. For I have no ability to self-direct where a dream will take me; further toward my escape into reality or further into the prison of my own subconscious. So I live an eternity of repeating the above sequel of sleeping, dreaming, awaking and then realizing that I am still lost in sleep without any certainty of the outcome. At one end of the spectrum awaits the Goldilock’s Zone and at the other, harmless dreams or night terrors of the most terrifying and frightening experiences.
I can only send out warnings of this malady which awaits us in sleep should anyone or anything I meet within my dreams be able to find their way out of this labyrinth. Do not take it for granted that the reality in which you awake is necessarily the reality from which you left in sleep. Someday soon you too may be lost in an eternal maze of unreality and see that your perception of life was a phantasm; no more real than the dreams you used to enjoy as a release from the troubles of the day. Instead, they may be quite worse than any trouble you have yet witnessed and I conclude that they may even last for an eternity. Sleep at your own peril.

A vulture in the wilderness

And so it begins! Quick now, while Nightmarish Evil Ogre is spell-bound, read the first of the horrible horror stories!

It was a dark and stormy night and the lights were flickering – well they were, somewhere, but not here and not this night. The sun was sinking slowly through a cloud formation that resembled an orange meringue imploding messily, and the ruined towers of Notre Dame glowed as with a reflection of the flames that had engulfed them just over a year ago. The cobblestones were still blackened and messy, there was an air of desolation. Yes, a dark and stormy night would have suited both the place and my mood.

Pierre was a typical Frenchman, I concluded to myself! He knew he was handsome, and the world knew he was rich and successful; I knew he was a bastard – lucky me! When your papa owned one of the biggest banks in Paris, and when you had finished top of your class at the Sorbonne and at Harvard Business School, Moab was your washpot; and girls, even pretty ones, were to be used like tissues – and discarded in the same manner; a plain Jane like me was fortunate to have such a man. I suddenly felt the chill; the sun had gone below the horizon; the Isle de France suddenly felt cold; there was an absence of company. Where the hell was Pierre?

“Meet me at Notre Dame”, he had said, “that little café on the right of the square, opposite the bridge. Be there for seven. Oh, and wear that green wrap-around dress I like.” It was the sort of thing he did, and the lasciviousness with which he said it reminded me that the tie allowed him to disrobe me speedily.. He thought it was “charmante”, and so, for the first month or so of our tempestuous affair, had I. Like many women, I quite liked “masterful”, even if my feminist principles told me that I ought not to. But with Pierre there were many of those things I ought not to have done that I had done; the devices and desires of my own heart led me by the nose; until I began to realise that was his thing.

Was that an owl I heard? Surely there were no owls in Paris? And where was Pierre? “Oui, maître”, I had said to him, hoping the sarcasm dripping from my lips would convey my growing irritation with his grand seigneurial manner.

“Are you Emily?” The waitress was a pretty girl in her late teens I would have said, probably of Algerian ancestry to judge by her skin tone. I admitted to the offence of being Emily. “M. Pierre said to meet him in the cathedral, he gave me this for you.” “This” was a police pass which said that I was permitted to enter the precincts of the ruins. Smiling, I gave her a generous tip and set off across the square. “Damn it!” I thought to myself, there I was again, just doing what he told me. No wonder he didn’t get the sarcasm. I suddenly realised that, in more than one sense, I was very far from home.

The guards at the gate smiled when they saw the pass. Their leer made me feel uneasy. Why did he want me to meet him here? Yes, there was no doubt about it, a dark and stormy night would have been a better backstop, but heck, I thought, he was worth it, and no doubt whatever he had in mind would, as he liked to put it “stretch my boundaries.”

The shiver that had gone through me when the sun dropped below the Seine intensified and doubled in intensity as I walked into the charred ruins. There was that owl, clear for the first time. Where the devil was the man? Then I wished I had not thought of the devil. The shadows cast by the lights of the building work took on the shape of demons; stop it, Emily, I thought.

I picked my way carefully. The lights gave just enough illumination to find my way, but my heels echoed in the darkling gloom. My irritation with Pierre still, just, outdistanced my growing unease, but it was a closer run thing than I was comfortable with. If I’d had the sense I was born with, I thought, I’d have turned on those heels and walked right on out. But if he was setting me a “dare” I was not going to back out and leave him with the last laugh.

I realised I was getting hungry. Life with Pierre was a roller-coaster. He never stopped, and that meant I never stopped. When was the last time I had talked with my friends, or my mother and sister? Time seemed to have been eaten up in frenetic activity. Suddenly I felt weary. The air had changed. How could it suddenly feel stuffy when most of the roof had gone?

It was then that I noticed it. There was a dripping sound. It was steady, like a leaking faucet, but softer. Then there was the smell. I could not quite identify it, though it seemed to me that it was familiar – but not as it usually was. I pulled my wrap closer around me. I could see the Cross and the high altar ahead. I crossed myself. “Lord, have mercy”, I thought. Those things I had done, and those I had left undone suddenly felt heavy on me; the weight of them was intolerable. It was sulphur, that smell. The owl hooted. I crossed myself again.

“Ma chérie”, came a familiar voice. It was him. He laughed. “It is so sweet the way you cross yourself, even at this moment.” I looked at him. Tall, handsome, and confident; that smile was a smirk. “I thought it would be the acme of wickedness to take you here, chérie, and that dress makes it easier for me! Untie it and come to me.”

For the third time, the owl hooted. I looked, and behind him, laid on a pyre of wood was a goat, dead, its blood dripping slowly on the floor. I saw the pentangles on the floor. He threw a light onto the pyre and pulled the cloak back. Paralysed, all I could think of was to say “Hail Mary, full of grace”, and he laughed, and in the flames, I saw him – a leper, white as snow – his bones seemed to show through his skin which was translucent. “Now, here and give yourself to me!” Out of the shadows, I saw three ghostly figures step forward. Automatically, doing what he said, as usual, I reached for the belt to loosen it, but found my hand in my pocket instead. I shivered, and not just with the cold. I felt myself pulled toward Pierre and the three figures.

Had I always had that Rosary in the pocket of my dress? I clutched it like a lifebelt. As I felt him drawing me into the circle formed by the pentangles, I pulled my Rosary out and clutched the Cross” “I believe in God, the Father Almighty,” the words came unbidden, though I had not said them for the last forty nights. The air crackled; the three ghostly figures seemed to flicker.

His eyes seemed to burn into me and suddenly, as on a screen, I saw laid out before me how life could be – luxurious and sumptuous: the mansions; the dresses; the exotic locations; the pleasures of the flesh; I knew, somehow, that if I would but do this one thing for him, all these things, and more, would be my portion in life.

“Ma chérie, give yourself to us now, you know you want to !” I felt utterly alone in the wilds of this place and of my heart. I could feel the unmistakable signs that my body was willing – except that my hand clutched the Rosary tight. “Mother of God, Our Lady of Walsingham, intercede for us!” The familiar words sprang forth as my mind and lips struggled with the flesh – and there she was.

There was a light which pierced the darkest recesses of the night, and suddenly I felt warm and no longer alone; my hands ceased to fumble with the tie. Pierre’s face, illuminated in the white light was set in a scowl which turned to fear; his ghostly companions faded. In the ruins and the hour of my terror, I saw her.

That was long ago now, but on this All Hallows’ Eve I set it down in writing as a warning. Pierre? I never saw him again. I remember following Our Lady out of her Cathedral and then hailing a taxi back to my apartment, and then nothing until, on the next Sunday I went to Mass at the Anglican Church of St Michael and when we reached the general confession I know only one thing, I had never meant it more. But it is late now, and the Mass of All Souls’ day is imminent, and my curate waits.

 

Totenfest, All Saints Day, Heroes and Saints

I see a fair number of you have been reading this, from back in 2012, so let’s bring it forward for the rest. It’s one of the few where I talk about my family, and it goes to the purpose of All Saints Day. Enjoy

I’ll bet Totenfest is a new term for many of you, actually, it’s a corrupted spelling of Todtenfest, what it translates as is “Feast (or festival) of the Dead. It has a bit of that German propensity for calling things what they are, like Krankenhaus (house of the sick) for hospital. It comes from the Evangelical church, that strange Prussian hybrid of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches committed by King Frederick Wilhelm III. Totenfest was instituted to remember the soldiers killed in the Prussian war (unless I’m missing something we’re talking about what the rest of us call the Napoleonic Wars). It soon expanded to remember members of the congregation who had passed in the last year.

When I was young my home church (which was Evangelical and Reformed) read the passed members names with a single bell toll after each. It was a moving service which served in lieu of All Saints Day, which is now commonly celebrated on the first Sunday in November, as The last Sunday in October is Reformation Sunday. When I was a kid, and it was still the E&R before the merger which formed the UCC, every Sunday the first hymn was this, which is nearly always appropriate.

Same purpose really, since we in the Protestant tradition tend to refer to those who have gone before us as saints. It is important to remember our forefathers in the faith for the same reason that we all admire the saints in the Catholic tradition. I think our way perhaps makes it even more personal. On  Friday, Jessica over at The Watchtower said this:

All Souls’ day is a time when I pray for the souls of my parents and other relatives now dead. I know many Protestants who ask me why I do so, as they are now with God, and He alone will judge; do I, they ask, think that somehow my prayers will influence Him. I try to explain that this is not what I believe at all. Yes, I believe God makes the decision, and I don’t believe He will be in the slightest bit influenced by me. But it is an act of piety to my dead parents. They are no longer here in the flesh, but that does not mean I forget them, and praying for them seems to me to be a way of saying that I still love them and still care about them.

I completely agree with her, which is not unusual. This is the time of year when I think a lot about and pray for my parents as well, knowing that God will be just, which is enough for me. But I want the folks to know that I still think of them and care about them, and even that I have remembered the lessons they taught me, about many things. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today, even as Jess talked about her daddy in that post you should read.

I was born when my folks were in their forties, so it wasn’t like dad had time or energy to play with me but, he spent a lot of time with me, or maybe the other way around when I was a kid. Many people think I’m a bit of a hard case, they may well be right. The lessons I learned as a child were all about doing things right always and taking responsibility. Sure I learned about electricity and line work and wiring buildings and a bunch of other skills but, the real lessons were about honesty and justice. With dad you never got unearned praise, in truth not saying anything about what you did was usually all the praise you were going to get, screw up and you heard about it though, guess where I learned the catchphrase, always make new mistakes. Doing it wrong because you just didn’t get it was allowable, doing it wrong again was simply unacceptable, and you learned that quickly. One of the other lessons taught was that bad news is not like wine, it doesn’t get better with age. Learning those two lessons will take you quite a way in this life; there are others.

But, in truth, it’s certainly not about me, and it’s not even about dad, it’s about those who have gone before us in the faith. I find it easier to understand if I personalize, and it’s fun for me to talk about dad. Of all the men I have known in a fairly long life, he more than any of them deserved the title of “Lightbringer” for that is what he did for countless rural families in Minnesota, in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, and in Indiana. From 1935 until he retired in 1969 he was a man of rural electrification.

That was his mission, nearly from the time he held his father in his arms as he died and so became the head of the family as a junior in high school, until he retired, with honor. Because we in the family understood, even his pallbearers were linemen, and executives from rural electrification, including the President of the Statewide coop. There was no glory in the mission, it was always a struggle, and to his dying day, he regretted being essential in World War II. But his work enabled dozens, maybe hundreds, of farm boys to join the service, without reducing food output. But he never thought he did his part. In truth, he was the most righteous man I have ever known. No, I don’t mean self-righteous, he was never in it for himself, he was there to serve. The old REA Co-op motto fit him perfectly: “Owned by those we serve”. He didn’t write it, he lived it, it was the mission

The energization of the first house on Kankakee Valley REMC in 1939; courtesy KVREMC

But you know, it wasn’t only him, ever. here’s one of the very few pictures I have from those days, one of the interesting things about it that in the ’60s, many of those pictured here were still on the board of the co-op. I knew most of them, and I wish they were still with us. They too understood the mission. When the couldn’t get the power companies to serve them, they did the thing that d’ Tocqueville had commented on all those years before- they formed an association to do it for them. And they built a very successful business on what the power companies had said could never be done. That’s part of Dad‘s story, but you have to multiply that by thousands of these associations all over the country to understand the accomplishment. For what they did was nothing less than bring the American farmer into the 20th century. These were men that you could make a thousand dollar deal with on a handshake, and never worry. Their word really was their bond. As I commented on Jess’s post, there truly were giants in the earth.

But we are talking about saints, well that’s not for us to say, is it? Of all the men in that picture, I know nothing of what church, if any, they attended. Given the make up of the area, I would guess most were Lutheran, Catholic, or Evangelical & Reformed, and a few Methodists. But I would also bet that many, like dad, were afraid the church would fall down if they entered, and besides they had work to do. I suspect I could count on my hands the number of times that dad attended church, in my lifetime. The other half of that we children and Mom were strongly encouraged to be active members. In fact of the 3 siblings, we have all been officers of our churches. But James 2 tells us:

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

To me, by that standard, they are saints indeed. I was going to end with a different hymn but can’t find an appropriate version so I will repeat Jess’s choice of one of the great old All Saints Day hymns.

It strikes me that maybe some of you may read this as me bragging about my dad, and I have been known to do that. But what I am doing here is giving you an example of a man, who lived his life as he felt God commanded, and did his duty.

My purpose is to remind you of the saints, in your family, who have gone before us to prepare the way and to remind you how much we all have to live up to if we wish to be worthy of our forebears.

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