Dorothy Sayers on Sacrificing for your Work

To feel sacrifice consciously as self-sacrifice argues a failure in love. When a job is undertaken from necessity, or from a grim sense of disagreeable duty, the worker is self-consciously aware of the toils and pains he undergoes, and will say: “I have made such and such sacrifices for this.”

But when the job is a labor of love, the sacrifices will present themselves to the worker — strange as it may seem — in the guise of enjoyment.

Moralists, looking on at this, will always judge that the former kind of sacrifice is more admirable than the latter, because the moralist, whatever he may pretend, has far more respect for pride than for love.

I do not mean that there is no nobility in doing unpleasant things from a sense of duty, but only that there is more nobility in doing them gladly out of sheer love of the job. The Puritan thinks otherwise; he is inclined to say, “Of course, So-and-So works very hard and has given up a good deal for such-and-such a cause, but there’s no merit in that — he enjoys it.” The merit, of course, lies precisely in the enjoyment, and the nobility of So-and-So consists in the very fact that he is the kind of person to whom the doing of that piece of work is delightful.

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, pp. 134 – 135

Bonus Book Excerpt

This excerpt is from my upcoming book, The Great Snake. If you don’t like spoilers, feel free to skip today’s post.

Background: Many years ago, shortly after Jai had gotten married, Jai’s mother died after giving birth to a baby girl, Klee. Jai took Klee and raised her as his own daughter. His wife, Amal, was jealous of the baby and never liked her. When Klee was a teenager, she ran away from home. The fallout from this blew up Jai’s marriage, and he is now camping out in an abandoned house that used to belong to his father, Endu. While there, he gets a visit from the tribal shaman, Ikash, his little brother.

As soon as he was strong enough to walk around and visit relatives, Ikash went to see his brother.

This required going to his father’s old house, because that was where Jai was staying. Ikash had been inside Endu’s house plenty of times during the four years since the founding of the village, but it had by no means become a second home to him. He had never felt he understood the inner workings of the family his father had built with young Dira, who was only a year older than Ikash himself. All he knew about their family was that it felt different. Different from the one he had grown up in. And so the house had never been exactly homelike.

But now, it was completely alien.

Endu’s house was a cavernous rectangle. The door, set in the middle, gave on to a great central hall. On either end of this were smaller rooms where the family slept. This time, when Ikash entered the central hall, he found it completely filled with the dark, fragrant bulk of drying wood planks. The planks were stacked in hollow boxes with aisles in between. They rose nearly to the ceiling and gave the place a completely different feel. One’s view was blocked, making the place seem even bigger.

His dog, Frost, was at his side. She scrabbled her toenails on the wooden floor and then began to sniff around, cautiously, as if in a new place. Ikash put a calming hand on her back and muttered a command to stay with him.

He called out for his brother.

Instead of echoing, the words seemed to be eaten by the stacked wood.

It was evening and Ikash had it on good authority that Jai was here, bedding down for the night. He must be in one of the side rooms. Ikash picked an aisle at random and began advancing towards the side of the house where Endu had usually slept. He almost felt as if he ought to have a weapon with him, as if he was stepping into an ambush. That, of course, was ridiculous.

He came into sight of the end of the aisle. There he could see the wall, and the door to Endu’s old bedroom. Jai was sitting with his back against the doorframe. He had a stone fire-basin on the floor in front of him, and he was warming his feet at the fire. His big skinny brown dog lay at his side. The fire cast a long shadow from Jai’s sharp nose and lit up a section of the wall around him.

A few steps from the end of the aisle, the firelight fell on Ikash and Frost. Jai squinted, said sharply, “Father? Is that you?” and scrambled to his feet.

“It’s me, brother.”

“Oh, God,” said Jai, visibly relieved. “Of course. It’s Ikash.” He invited his brother to sit down. Then he apologized for his mistake. “I thought for a second you were his ghost. You looked so much like him.”

“I don’t look like Father.”

“You do, though, now that you’ve gotten so skinny. I thought you might be his spirit.”

“I’m not, but thanks for the compliment.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have anything to offer you,” said Jai. “I don’t keep food in this house generally. I had supper at the central fire.”

“I thought that might be the case, and I brought something.”

Ikash had with him a small satchel containing cakes that his wife had made using cornmeal, cattail-root starch, and last year’s dried berries. He brought them out and shared them with his brother, his brother’s dog, and his own dog.

He noted with surprise that this brought tears to Jai’s eyes, but he didn’t say anything. He too had been brought to tears, once upon a time, by the simple fact of someone cooking something special for him.

They sat in silence for a long time. Ikash kept waiting for Jai to speak, but he didn’t. He seemed too preoccupied to wish his younger brother a good recovery, if indeed he was even aware that his brother had been sick.

At last the shaman said, “How do you like this house, brother?”

Jai had a small, narrow face topped with his father’s long almond-shaped eyes. He now turned the face toward his brother and those eyes gave out their trademark flat stare that might have been hostile or incredulous.

“No, of course I don’t like this house. This isn’t a house at all. It’s a goddam warehouse. I am living here because I can’t live in my own house any more. I am homeless. That’s how I like it.”

He snorted.

Ikash drew a breath, but his brother wasn’t finished.

“And I am living here because, as I think you know, I was kicked out of my own house by your wife’s sister and her goddam family. I’ve been replaced by my mother-in-law. That’s how things are going. And you know what the chief is like, you know the way he is about his daughters. I doubt he’d let me back into that house if I wanted to.”

“Do you want to?”

“Yes.” The syllable was bitter, but it nearly broke at the end.

“Tell me more,” said the shaman.

Jai spoke for several minutes about his wife. He was clearly angry with her, mostly for being so angry with him. He was also very lonely. Endu’s house was spooky and unhappy, a far worse place to sleep than sleeping outdoors during a hunt.

Ikash nodded. He had felt the menace as he was walking through the drying wood stacks. He did not wonder that his brother had expected to see a ghost. Jai had the dog with him, that was the saving grace, but even he didn’t want to live here forever.

Ikash said, “What if you were to reconcile with my wife’s older sister?”

Jai stopped dead in his ranting and his long dark eyes looked sideways.

“Is that even possible?”

“Perhaps,” said the shaman. He had not spoken with Amal and knew little about her mental state.

“She insists that I not blame her for our sister leaving. But I have to. She mistreated Klee horribly. I didn’t think it meant so much at the time – she never beat her – but I was wrong. Girls are more sensitive, brother. All it takes to drive them away is words. Now I can’t believe that I let Amal turn her against me. I wish I had put a stop to it at once.”

“How would you have done that, brother?”

“I … don’t know.”

Silence descended as both brothers slowly realized that if Jai had tried to put a stop to it, it would only have brought on this very situation several years earlier.

“I’ve been a terrible father,” said Jai.

“You are not finished being a father.”

“To Klee.”

“You gave her a home, kept her fed and clothed, kept her alive as she grew. Now she is grown and gone. Married. As she would have done in any case.”

“That is true, brother.”

“Do you remember when we were young and we wanted to get out and explore?”

Jai got a fierce, faraway look and said nothing. After a moment he said, “Are you saying that I haven’t failed her?”

“Perhaps not as completely as she thinks.”

“But she hates Amal and me.”

“But she is alive and whole.”

“You are right,” said Jai. “Let her hate us if it makes her happy. I am still her brother.”

“She hates me, too,” said Ikash helpfully.

“And you hate our father.”

“No, brother, I don’t.”

“Well, you think he is dangerous, and a bad man.”

“In many ways, he is.”

“He was a great father,” said Jai. “I still don’t know how his house got so sad and ghosty. I can’t understand it.” He shook his head silently for a few moments, and then said, “Brother … I feel as if …” And then with a very fierce look, “Do not mock me.”

“I won’t.”

“I feel as if,” said Jai, stroking the dog and not meeting his brother’s eye, “As if, were I to … truly let Klee go … I’d be failing our mother. Again.”

And Ikash took a sharp breath as if he had been stabbed, but did not reply.

This was too big a matter for words, so the two of them sat in silence a time.

“But she is grown,” said Jai then. “Not dead, but grown. Do you really think I can reconcile with my wife?”

“Maybe it is possible,” said the shaman carefully. “I think … I think it might be necessary that the two of you stop talking about Klee. I know that … I realize what that … means to you. But you may need to do it if you want to reconcile with your wife. Perhaps you can sort of … start over.”

Jai’s face softened. “Start over,” he murmured. “If she agrees to start over …, would you do some sort of ceremony for us?”

“I’d be honored.”

His intercession did not make all come right immediately. But Jai began to make overtures towards reconciling with Amal. In the early summer, Ikash did a reconciliation ceremony for his brother and sister-in-law that involved smoke and sacrifices. Everyone was as happy as if it were a wedding. At that time, it had been exactly a year since Klee found out the truth about her parentage.

Not long after this, the tribe performed on Endu’s house what might be described as an extreme form of spring cleaning. The seasoned wood was removed and re-stacked in a dry outdoor location, with a temporary cattail roof overhead to protect it from rains. The house itself was then dismantled. Some of the timber was salvaged, but most of it, the “ghosty” part, was burned. Ikash performed a purifying ceremony over the land where the house had been. The newly seasoned timber was then used to make a tribal meeting hall. The remnants of Endu’s house were used in a remodeling project that Jai and Amal were undertaking.

The Angel is Not Impressed: A Poem

Were you bitter, Zechariah? Many fruitless years had you

asked and asked God for a child, just to see your prayers fall through?

Standing slack-jawed at the altar, towering o’er you, Gabriel’s face:

not a chance you could have doubted God’s real power in that place.

But those dark years were your downfall, and your anger was your sin.

Now’s my chance, your sad heart whispered, Just to get one good dig in.

“It’s too late — You should have given us a baby long ago!”

Any man could understand it, but not the angel Gabriel.

Bitter mouths ought to be silenced, so the angel struck you dumb.

And so, dazed and unhappy, out into the light you come.

In a comedy of errors, Luke says you “kept making signs,”

till those gathered came to realize God had come to you inside.

Sometimes silence is a blessing. Yours was not empty but full

as you watched your once-hard neighbors come to wish Elizabeth well,

like an acorn dead below ground till its time comes to unfurl.

Nine months dumb, your mouth was ready to unsay its bitter ways:

Ready to croon to a baby, ready to explode in praise.

Theology Friday

I just finished reading the book of Job. Again. I swear, it is so amazing. Here’s what G.K. Chesterton had to say about it:

The Jews were unpopular … [but] … They had one of the colossal corner-stones of the world: the Book of Job. It obviously stands over against the Iliad and the Greek tragedies; and even more than they it was an early meeting and parting of poetry and philosophy in the morning of the world. … But this mighty monotheistic poem remained unremarked by the whole world of antiquity … It is a sign of the way in which the Jews stood apart and kept their tradition unshaken and unshared, that they should have kept a thing like the Book of Job out of the whole intellectual world of antiquity. It is as if the Egyptians had modestly concealed the Great Pyramid.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, chapter IV: ‘God and Comparative Religion’

Job is Not Just About One Thing

So what makes the book of Job so great? There are so many things, and there is so much going on in it. This makes it kind of difficult to follow, especially on a first reading, especially if you are looking for one overarching theme that is easily discovered. Everybody has their say in Job, and the reader just kind of has to go along for the ride.

And, continuing with the perhaps rather inappropriate metaphor of a long, twisty water-slide, everybody talks about the big waterfall at the end, but maybe this time you almost drowned in the innocent-looking swirly pool, or you thought you were going to tip off when going around that one curve right at the top. Different parts of the book of Job jump-scare you on each separate ride through it.

So what jump-scared me this time?

On Being Gaslighted

Being gaslighted puts people in a terrible spot really. It might not bother a sociopath, because such a person does not have any self-doubt, any respect for the opinions of others, or any sense that it is wise to consider the possibility that we may be wrong. But for a person with a modicum of humility and self-awareness, the natural response to being gaslighted is to turn the spotlight inward and ask yourself, “Am I in fact wrong?”

Then, when careful examination assures you that you are not mistaken, yet the gaslighter is still insisting that you are, you have to betray one of two moral values. You have to either stand up for your own perspective, thus betraying the principle of humble and prudent self-doubt, or you have to betray the idea of truth. The longer the gaslighting goes on, the more frustrating this pinch becomes.

As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,

the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul,

as long as I have life within me,

the breath of God in my nostrils,

my lips will not speak wickedness,

and my tongue will utter no deceit.

I will never admit that you are in the right;

till I die, I will not deny my integrity.

I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it;

my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.

Job 27:2 – 6

Now, despite the words “righteousness” and “conscience” here, I do not think that Job is making an arrogant claim to be currently sinless and never going to sin as long as he lives. In other verses, he has shown that he is aware he is sinful. For example, in 13:26 he addresses God, “You write down bitter things against me and make me inherit the sins of my youth.” In 14:16 – 17 he says, “Surely then You will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover over my sin.” He is aware that “no one living can be righteous before God,” and he portrays God as watching him every moment, waiting for him to make a misstep (10:13 – 14), which is technically within God’s rights but, as Job points out, no one can withstand.

In other passages, Job indicates that if his friends were to rightly point out something that he had done wrong, he would submit to it. But what he’s not willing to do is allow them to accuse him of a bunch of things he knows he has not done: oppressing the poor, living a careless, selfish life, defying God, etc., etc. This has not been Job’s lifestyle, and he knows it.

So I think that when Job uses the word integrity in the passage above, he is talking about epistemology. He will not deny his integrity by “admitting they are right,” not because he’s an arrogant blowhard who won’t take correction, but because he has done self-examination — a lot of it — and the things they are saying are just not true. It might be easier in some ways to just go ahead and “admit” to all the things his friends are accusing him of, but that would be to throw out his entire epistemology, which includes the assumption that certain things are true, and that Job is capable of perceiving and remembering them. Giving up the epistemological point that truth is discoverable and that Job is not delusional, would be to betray his integrity. I believe that in the lines below, he is using “righteousness” and “conscience” as synonyms for “integrity” in the sense of epistemological integrity. I believe that in the lines above, when he says he will “speak no wickedness” and “utter no deceit,” he is saying he will not give up on his idea of the truth being a real thing and his own mind being a reliable guide to it, which he would be doing if he were to agree with all that his friends have been saying about him.

Obviously, admitting you are wrong is not a betrayal of the value of truth in every case. In many cases, valuing truth can lead us to admit we are wrong. But Job has examined their claims for 24 chapters now, and he has realized he is being gaslighted. He even realizes that, following their logic, his not being an evil oppressor creates a logical inconsistency with the idea that God is just. He is willing to take the puzzle rather than deny what he knows to be true. He is also not worried about looking like an arrogant blowhard. They have already called him that and worse. He’s just not willing to give up this last shred of dignity, that he knows what his lifestyle has been like and it has not been one of habitual wickedness.

I’ll let you make your own applications of all of this. The words of Jen are ended.

Quote: Self-reflection in the Gulag

… Following an operation, I am lying in the surgical ward of a camp hospital. I cannot move. I am hot and feverish, but nonetheless my thoughts do not dissolve into delirium — and I am grateful to Dr. Boris Nikolayevich Kornfeld, who is sitting beside my cot and talking to me all evening. The light has been turned out — so it will not hurt my eyes. He and I — and there is no one else in the ward.

Fervently he tells me the long story of his conversion from Judiasm to Christianity. This conversion was accomplished by an educated, cultivated person, one of his cellmates … We know each other very slightly, and [Dr. Kornfeld] was not the one responsible for my treatment, but there was simply no one here with whom he could share his feelings. He was a gentle and well-mannered person.

It is already late. All the hospital is asleep. Kornfeld is ending up his story thus:

“And on the whole, do you know, I have become convinced that there is no punishment that comes to us in this life on earth which is undeserved. Superficially it can have nothing to do with what we are guilty of in actual fact, but if you go over your life with a fine-toothed comb and ponder it deeply, you will always be able to hunt down that transgression of yours for which you have now received this blow.”

I cannot see his face. Through the window come only the scattered reflections of the lights of the perimeter outside. But there is such mystical knowledge in his voice that I shudder. …

And it so happened that Kornfeld’s prophetic words were his last words on earth. And, directed to me, they lay upon me as an inheritance. You cannot brush off that kind of inheritance by shrugging your shoulders.

But by that time I myself had matured to similar thoughts.

I would have been inclined to endow his words with the significance of a universal law of human life. However, one can get all tangled up that way. One would have to admit that on that basis those who had been punished even more cruelly than with prison — those shot, burned at the stake — were some sort of super evil-doers. (And yet … the innocent are those who get punished most zealously of all.) And what would one then have to say about our so evident torturers: Why does not fate punish them? Why do they prosper?

But there was something in Kornfeld’s words that touched a sensitive chord, and that I accept quite completely for myself. And many will accept the same for themselves.

In the seventh year of my imprisonment I had gone over and re-examined my life quite enough and had come to understand why everything had happened to me: both prison and, as an additional piece of ballast, my malignant tumor.

The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, pp. 309 – 311

The Dia de los Muertos Book Tag

Jyvur Entropy created this tag with Anna Book Critter, and I got it off Jyvur’s blog.

For a tag, you are given a series of prompts around a particular theme, and you answer the prompts, usually with the names of books you’ve read.

Para que lo sepas, I had to restrain myself from naming one of my own books for almost every one of these prompts. After all, the Scattering Trilogy is multigenerational; life-affirming; about rebirth; includes a fair amount of food, etc. Anyway, that’s en mi opinion. But I will do this tag like a normal person and name books by other people.

Photo by Chait Goli on Pexels.com

The Day of the Dead is all about remembering and honoring past generations.

Name a book with an intergenerational cast or a strong focus on family.

Pavilion of Women, by Pearl Buck. Buck is a master at sliding seamlessly through time in her stories. In the opening scene, Madame Wu is sitting in her chamber on the morning of her fortieth birthday. Her maidservant comes in to comb her hair, and suddenly we are in this same bedroom twenty-four years ago, on the morning after Madam Wu married Mr. Wu, and the same maidservant has come in, and she is nervous as a cat around her new mistress, because she knows that she just had sex for the first time. Now, twenty-four years later again, the servant is much more at ease with Madam Wu, but she does not know that her mistress has decided that as of her fortieth birthday, she will stop living to keep the Wu household running smoothly, and start living for herself. She just has to get through the party.

Dia de los Muertos is an important Mexican holiday. Name a book that takes place in Mexico or includes Mexican culture. 

I’ve been slo-mo bingeing on books about the archaeology of Mesoamerica. Of course, with books like these, which are about as old as I am, you need to supplement them with current articles, since new discoveries and analyses keep being made.

This holiday is often celebrated with vibrant, colorful imagery and sugar skulls. Name a book with a cover as visually-interesting and colorful as a sugar skull.

I will never stop promoting the art of Trina Schart Hyman.

Food is an important part of the Dia de los Muertos celebration. Food is set out on altars for the spirits of departed family members.

Tell us a book where food really makes the story!

The No. Ladies’ Detective Agency books. These are written from multiple perspectives, but arguably the main character is Precious Ramotswe, founder of the No. Ladies’ Detective Agency, the only female-run detective agency in Botswana. Mma Ramotswe is fat (“traditionally built”), and while not unusually greedy, she does enjoy her food and thinks about it fairly often. She always likes to visit the formidable Mma Potokwane, who runs an orphanage, because although Mma Potokwane is sure to ask for some kind of favor for her orphans, she always serves Mma Ramotswe a generous piece of cake, sometimes two.

“Some people very clearly and obviously would like to eat more cake. It might as well be printed on their forehead: Greedy person.” Ah yes, that would be me.

Dia de los Muertos is not only celebrated in Mexico, but also in Central and South America. Name a book that takes place in Central or South America or has a Central or South American author. 

I’ve read a lot of missionary stories, but Bruchko is one of the most remarkable. It takes place among the Motilone, who live in the jungle somewhere along the border of Venezuela and Colombia.

In addition to sugar skulls, flowers and butterflies are also symbols of this holiday. Tell us a book with flowers or butterflies on the cover

Nailed it.

The Day of the Dead is about celebrating life. Name a book that celebrates life. 

The book of Job, in the Bible.

You think I’m kidding? No, listen.

Job isn’t about Job patiently putting up with suffering, proving what a good person he is, and then God rewards him. That’s the caricature, but it’s almost the opposite of the real theme of the book.

The consensus in Ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature was that, since God is just, if anything bad happens to anyone, it must be their fault. This is still, by the way, the essence of human wisdom in many parts of the globe, especially in Hinduism. It is also many people’s instinct when we see a horrible disaster befall someone, to find some way that the unfortunate person brought it upon themselves, or “how this could have been avoided.” It makes us feel a little more in control.

The book of Job exists to subvert this universally accepted bit of “wisdom.”

Job starts out as a model of the good person in the Ancient Near East. He has seven sons (the perfect number!), and three daughters; he offers regular animal sacrifices to God. And he’s rich, as he should be. Everything is making sense, see?

Now we take this model Good Person and visit all kinds of punishments on him. And this must be an expose, right? It must be Justice Falling At Last!

Job’s three “friends” show up, and they proceed to preach some very reasonable, theologically sound sermons just like you could hear in any of the wisdom literature of the day. God is just. He rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Therefore you must have deserved this somehow. If you say you haven’t, you are defying God! Beat that!

Their logic is flawless. And God sides with Job against them. “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

If that’s not life-affirming, I don’t know what is.

It is also a day of remembering loved ones who passed on. Name a book that was either given to you or reminds you of a loved one who passed away. 

Let me tell you about Alice.

I can tell you all about her now, because she’s with the Lord. No privacy risk or anything like that. I’d post a picture if I had one, but I don’t.

By the time I knew Alice, she was in her late eighties. (I was in my late teens.) She mentored me for a few years before she got dementia. She was a sweet, little old German-American lady, with a sly sense of humor. She could do impressions, but used this skill judiciously. Once she said to me, “You want to know why I never married?” And then, for an answer, she quoted the King James verse, but with different punctuation: “I would not have thee, ignorant brethren.” Props to you if you get that joke.

The “brethren” that she “would not have” were certainly missing out, because Alice was a treasure. Perhaps they overlooked her good qualities because of a facial deformity. She had been bitten on the cheek by a horse as a child, and it wasn’t until she was an adult that she was able to afford corrective surgery.

Anyway, one day when I was at Alice’s house, I picked up the book The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. She encouraged me to borrow it. I expected it to be a dry, academic read, because it was on a lofty theological topic. But no, it was written for the layperson, and was very accessible. A page-turner, in fact. To this day I associate that book with Alice.

El flor del Muerto – The flower of the dead. Marigolds are used in massive quantities on the Day of the Dead. These flowers represent the sun and rebirth. Also believe to guide the spirits back home. Name a book about rebirth. 

The Great Good Thing, by Andrew Klavan. Unfortunately, I have lent my copy out, so I can’t show you a picture. This is the story of how Klavan grew up as secular Jew on Long Island, ran away from home, lived as a hobo for several years, became a hard-boiled noir crime writer and a Hollywood success, and then became a Christian at the age of 50. He is now a Christian, Jewish, hard-boiled noir crime writer who also writes YA and fantasy.

If you want to read a novel about rebirth, try Identity Man, also by Andrew Klavan.

Colors are used as a form of symbolism in the decorations and sugar skulls. Some of the colors used in association with Dia de los Muertos are yellow (unity), white (hope and purity), red (blood and life), purple (mourning), and pink (happiness). 

Take a photo of some book spines in the Dia de los Muertos colors!

And a happy Dia de los Muertos to all who celebrate ❤

P.S. Disclaimer about Memorializing Our Dead

If anyone feels uncomfortable with me doing this tag, because, you know, skulls and dead people and paganism, I get it.

Let me reiterate a point I have made before, that pagan practices (especially old ones with deep roots) often fulfill basic human needs that every society needs to fulfill, such as celebration, marking the seasons, etc. In this case, the basic human need is to continue to feel a connection to, and to honor, our loved ones who have died. In a way, it’s part of the mourning process. Modern American society is terrible at this, sorry to say. The only formal time to remember the person is during the funeral and burial, after which the mourners are expected to basically stop talking about the person except to very close friends or relatives. Bringing them up, or continuing to visibly grieve, causes that sin of all sins, social awkwardness. This is pretty harsh, and it does not match well with the way that grieving goes for most people.

There are ways to provide for ongoing grieving, honoring, and remembering that are not ancestor worship. For example, in Indonesia, the Muslims have memorial services at 30 days, 100 days, and a year after the death. The people groups of Kalimantan (pagan and sometimes Christian as well) have a second, larger, funeral ceremony, usually a year later, when they dig up the person’s bones and re-inter them in an ossuary with the bones of the family. The Christians will have about a week or so of viewing services while they wait for people to gather for the funeral; then the graveside service; then that night an additional “comfort” service. Most of these take place at the family’s house, and they mean the house is filled with people, songs, and food. The family is not left alone. The people who attend don’t have to say or do anything special beyond “we share in your grief.” They just have to be physically present. This is also a better social rule than having to come up with something to say.

Christians will also have a vigil at their relatives’ graves on the night before Easter. This might sound creepy – and maybe it is – but sometimes when facing something as awful as death, we have to embrace the creepy and it will actually haunt us less.

So all that to say, while I am not recommending pagan worship, and while Christians are definitely forbidden from trying to contact the dead, I think having something like a Dia de los Muertos is a good idea on a psychological level. And yes, I did get teary-eyed when watching Coco.

Quote: “the center of this world”

Here is how it was with many others, not just with me. Our initial, first prison sky consisted of black swirling storm clouds and black pillars of volcanic eruptions — this was the heaven of Pompeii, the heaven of the Day of Judgment, because it was not just anyone who had been arrested, but I — the center of this world.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (abridged), p. 301