Father Richard connects the church’s teaching on “the communion of saints” and our ancestors:
Humans throughout history have often had a strong appreciation for and connection with their ancestors. I think the collective notion of oneness is what Christians were trying to verbalize when they made a late addition to the ancient Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints.” They were offering us the idea that the dead are at one with the living, whether they’re our direct ancestors, the saints in glory, or even the so-called souls in purgatory.
Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (1926–2022) wrote of experiencing a tender oneness with his mother in a dream and in nature:
The day my mother died, I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune of my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut of my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.
I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet . . . wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine alone but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. These feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil. 
Father Richard continues:
The whole thing, all of life, is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being “part of the body,” humble links in the great chain of history. This view echoes the biblical concept of a covenant love that was granted to the Jewish people as a whole and never just to one individual like Abraham, Noah, or David.
 Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life (New York: Riverhead Books, 2002), 5–6.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent, 2019), 163–164.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on the meaning of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Jeremy Bezanger, Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut (detail), Egypt, photograph, Unsplash. Jon Tyson, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Unsplash. Rasam, Takht-e-Jamshid (Persepolis) (detail), 2020, Iran, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: Human ancestors leave legacies in physical and cultural bones, while stones carry meaning and memory. How will you listen to the wisdom of your ancestors?
Story from Our Community:
When I was a child, my mother would take us on nature walks in rural Connecticut, often to a special tree we named the Grandfather tree. In the shade of the tree, we would share a picnic of peanut butter sandwiches and milk straight from a jar. In my teen years, I would return alone, finding spiritual strength and comfort from Grandfather tree. I am grateful to the Daily Meditations for stirring the memory and for reigniting my deep gratitude that my parents instilled a reverence and connection for all creation. —Johanna Y.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.