Spiritual Directors International

The Home of Spiritual Companionship

Honoring Our Ancestors

Guest Author: 
Liz Budd Ellmann, MDiv

Years ago, a couple from our parish invited Steve and me to their annual potluck dinner to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead. For our friend’s family, the festival is customarily celebrated on All Souls Day, November 2.

Our friends made a big pot of posole, a traditional Mexican stew, and asked that we bring for the altar a picture or some object to remember a loved one who had died.

I remember the evening vividly. When each of us arrived, we placed on a special table articles that reminded us of people who had died or things that once belonged to them: an old photograph in a special silver frame, a bracelet, a baseball mitt, a funeral order of worship. Sugar skulls and bright orange marigolds mingled with the cherished pieces. Together we created an offrende, or home altar, to pray with and for our family members and friends who were dead.

After feasting on posole, we took turns sharing stories of our loved ones. What began as a simple potluck became an intimate experience of communion. We all missed the people we were remembering, however it was not sad or morose. For the fresh losses, tears were shared, yet overall I experienced the common humanity of losing people we love. The strongest memory I have of that evening was re-experiencing the joy our beloved dead brought to our lives.

On November 1, the coordinating council of Spiritual Directors International meets in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA with local spiritual companions and seekers. Seven coordinating council members from four countries and three continents will join local spiritual companions for an afternoon called, Listening to Wisdom. We will continue to plan for the 2014 Emerging Wisdom conference in Santa Fe. Many thanks for the hospitality SDI members in New Mexico are offering to the council.

On November 2, as a way for the coordinating council to engage with local culture, we will create a simple offrende during our meeting and share with each other stories of our beloved deceased. Praying and meditating with the dead is a contemplative practice that engages us with our own mortality and with the goodness that lies beyond death.

Please join SDI servant leaders in learning from Mexican culture—and other cultures—that annually recognize the thin line between life and death. Talking about death makes it not so scary. If we listen closely, wisdom may emerge.  


How will you honor your longing for connection with the beloved dead you are missing this year? During November, you may find solace in creating an offrende in your home and encourage those whom you spiritually companion to do likewise as a way to honor the dead.

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