Fall Triduum

Helen Daly, one of our Wisdom students in Brattleboro, Vermont, emailed me last week to ask if I could write a couple of paragraphs by what I mean by the “Fall Triduum.”  Aha! A question! Happy to oblige.

Triduum, of course, is the name applied in Catholic liturgical circles to those great three days that form the heart of the Holy Week celebration: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the great Vigil of Easter (Triduum means “three days.”) The solemn passage through this sacred space is experienced not only as a set of external observances, but as a journey deep within the interiority of our own hearts.

Many years ago, it occurred to me that the fall also offers us a Triduum in those great three days encompassing Halloween (October 31), All Saints Day (November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2). Though Halloween is by and large celebrated only as a secular holiday and All Saints and All Souls are relatively unknown beyond monastic circles, they do in fact comprise their own sacred passage, which is not only authentic in and of itself, but also a powerful mirror-image of the energy flowing through the spring Triduum.  For several years now I have led silent retreats at the time of this fall Triduum, most recently for the monks and lay community of  Our lady of the Holy Spirit Abbey in Conyers, Georgia. The original “Fall Triduum” retreat was pioneered—as with so much else in my life—with The Contemplative Society, at a retreat house on Vancouver Island.

Both spring and fall Triduums deal with that passage from death to life which is at the heart of the Christian mystical path, and in fact, all mystical paths. But they do so in very different modes, with a very different emotional and spiritual coloration. At Easter the days are lengthening, the earth is springing forth with new life, and resurrection energy is already coursing through everything in the physical universe, like Dylan Thomas’s celebrated “force that drives the green fuse through the flower.” Resurrection is sort of a no-brainer, if you want to think of it that way; all the currents of our being are already set in that direction.

In the Fall Triduum the movement is more inward, against the grain. The days are shortening, the leaves are fallen, and the earth draws once again into itself.  Everything in the natural world confronts us with reminders of our own mortality. The scriptural readings as the time just before Advent approaches are more and more preoccupied with the end, not only personally but cosmically: the last coming, the end of time. In this dark and inward season, there is little that encourages us to somersault over death right into resurrection; we must linger in the dark, allow the dawning recognition of how fragile we are.

Trees in FogAnd yet in the midst of this broody season of dark and inwardness, the days do offer themselves as a journey, a progression we can take. Halloween, that great druidic celebration is often lost in excess and revelry. But if you pay attention, it is actually asking us to acknowledge the false self (yes, head out trick-or-treating dressed as your false self!), let the “ghoulies and ghosties, long leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night” cavort as they will without causing us alarm. “All shall be well, and all manner of long leggity thing shall be well.” The shadow faced, we are then free on November 1 to move into that most exquisite and subtle foretaste of the glory to come, the mystical communion of saints. From my own personal experience I can say that not Easter but All Saints is the thinnest of the thin places between heaven and earth, where the boundaries between ourselves and all we have loved but deemed lost, all we have grieved for, all the roads not taken in our lives, are met in the gentle solace of “yes.”

From there, having glimpsed on November 1 that  (in the words of a wonderful old children’s book) “all land is one land under the sea,” we are then invited on November 2 to return to our human condition and particularity; to acknowledge and grieve the ones we have lost (from the viewpoint of this world) and to prepare ourselves to live more deeply and courageously this strange dual walk that we humans seem cosmically appointed to traverse, poised “at the intersection of the timeless with time” as the poet T. S. Eliot depicts it.

In the quiet, brown time of the year, these fall Triduum days are an invitation to do the profound inner work: to face our shadows and deep fears (death being for most people the scariest of all), to taste that in ourselves which already lies beyond death, drink at its fountain, then to move back into our lives again, both humbled and steadied in that which lies beyond both light and dark, beyond both life and death.  What better tilling of the inner soil for the mystery of the Incarnation, which lies just ahead?

I encourage all of you who have the inclination to keep these days as best you can for this quiet but extraordinary rite of passage.

16 replies
  1. Janine Clancy
    Janine Clancy says:

    Thank you for your reflection on this holy time of diving into the cave time of possibility birthed in the earthiest appearance of our cellular landscape. Tomorrow November 2, 2017 is the anniversary of my Mom’s death.(18 Years) now . i feel a great need of the cellular release of tears wanting release as i grieve my Dad’s recent death. however they stay encased, i feel and listen , feel and listen.

  2. Apryl
    Apryl says:

    Cynthia thank you for this wonderful piece and welcoming us into this time of reflection during Halloween, All Saints and All Souls’ Day. I was taken by your description of the seasons during these times and intrigued. As one living in the Southern Henisphere all that you described of the season during Easter is happening here for us right now. An enlivening, awakening time of new growth and possibly. Rebirth everywhere! And our Easters are days of drawing in, withdrawing as the days become shorter. A different experience altogether than the one you described. I shall look to these days; the Southern Hemispheres ‘Spring Triduum’ with new awareness. Thank you.

  3. Carole Pentony
    Carole Pentony says:

    Cynthia, this blog is now part of each Fall Triduum for me, and a unique gift to share for this season. It is also heartening to see Helen Daly’s response in 2011, since this topic started thru her initiation and she was not to be with us in this life much longer by the following Triduum….. Yet we can “see” her every year here.

    Blessings on your work, and on you and all your students.

    Love, Carole

  4. Elizabeth Combs Beglin
    Elizabeth Combs Beglin says:

    Oh, Cynthia..Thank You! Your naming of the “thinness” of this time is beautiful and a reminder to me of what my heart knows but my mind often denies and rebels against. Thus I sometimes struggle against finding myself in the darkness instead of embracing it, receiving it. I especially appreciate the invitation to acknowledge and allow loss and death not only in physical form, in our bodies and others’ bodies, but also as they occur in other ways and forms. And our calling to allow that sacred passage wherever and however it occurs. Thank you, as ever, for the richness and beauty of your reflections.

  5. Mary T - aka Anamchara
    Mary T - aka Anamchara says:

    1) Bless you for this observation on the second Triduum. In the Northern hemisphere, its a perfect fit. However . . .
    2) how would you recommend that this “Triduum” work in the Southern Hemisphere? The Northern Halloween is on the traditional Celtic Samhain. In the Southern Hemisphere we celebrate Samhain on 1 May for exactly the same seasonal reasons as the Northerners celebrate it on 31 Oct.. This 1 May date can sometimes coincide or precede with the Orthodox Pascha, and can frequently precede the Western Church’s Pentecost.. There is no All Saints day on 2 May, nor an All Souls day on 3 May.

    Therefore, Chto Dela? (Russian for “what to do”?).


      Another good reason for having two triduums is that you can flip the imagery. Now all my friends living under the Southern Cross can do the dark passage at Easter and the spring resurrection passage at All Saints. Why not?

  6. Debbie Brewin-Wilson
    Debbie Brewin-Wilson says:

    Cynthia–what a great idea. Thinking of the Celtic celebration of Halloween, with the idea of disguising who you are so the fair folk (or whomever/whatever!) can’t take “you” away reminds me of the Gospel of Thomas, in a way–if they can’t find “you,” what do you have to fear? I do like the idea of exploring a fall Triduum. Thank you!

  7. Kim Law
    Kim Law says:

    Hi Cynthia,
    What a gift this “blog” is! I agree that it would be nice to to have a new word for it.
    Thank you, thank you!

  8. Robin Cameron
    Robin Cameron says:

    Dear Cynthia, Thank you so much for telling me about the blog. I am ever grateful for your gift of naming things … this is a treasure, giving us a way to become more conscious and aware during these three days of what we knew already intuitively and by experience at some level. How much more meaning there will be as we move into Thanksgiving. And how much more awareness we will have come Spring. Keep writing!

  9. Helen Daly
    Helen Daly says:

    Thank you so much Cynthia for this abundant response–so deep, mystical and un-bloggish. I’ve felt the thinness of this time for years, and your naming it and deepening that naming is such a blessing. I will forward this on to our local Wisdom Circle (Community of Practice for Contemplative Christianity at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Brattleboro http://www.stmichaels-vt.org/Contemplative Christianity) Tomorrow night we gather with the beautiful Beatitudes lectionary appointed for All Saints Day and will reference Cynthia’s wonderful writing in “Wisdom Jesus” on the Beatitudes.

    With deep gratitude Cynthia for your making everything you have received flow out.

  10. Jane Waldron
    Jane Waldron says:

    Cynthia, Thank you for this post. I have often experienced and participated in the holiness that surrounds these days. Now I know their true name, and connecting them to Easter further acknowledges the cycles of our lives. So wonderful to be sharing these days with you at the Christophany retreat.
    The blog is beautiful and poetic and rich with teaching. Couldn’t ask for more!
    Jane Waldron

  11. Elizabeth Wilde
    Elizabeth Wilde says:

    Hmmm! A fall Triddum! I have always loved All Saints Day and All Souls Day as my very favorite church holidays, (even–can I whisper this out loud?! over–gulp..Easter and Christmas….though I love them too!) But…these days with leaves tumbling down, the simplicity of bare trees, the happy solitude of stripped fields, has always given me quiet joy. A peaceful celebration of the season of death. It’s not about rushing ahead, using this time as a contrast to spring, or to dwell on how death is overcome by the new life–no, to me it means death simply has its own honored and sacred place in the cycle of things. Such a quiet solace in these three days! To know I am part of all those who have lived before, and all those who will live after, and therefore part of God…in my scrambled childhood thinking I used to think Jesus also liked these three days best himself because these days are about us, and our allotted threescore and ten. The grownups said He loved us more than anything–I figured then this was what they meant when they talked about the communion of saints.

  12. jackie bays
    jackie bays says:

    Dear Cynthia,

    I have never really considered a Fall Triduum and certainly not around Halloween–your writing has given me pause on this day to consider loss and grief, and inward dwelling as the veil is thinner on this day.. Thank you as always for your insights.

    I, as well as others, I am sure would like to “hear” your thoughts on your recent trip to France with Jehanne–a travel log would be great as well as spiritual teachings.

  13. Susan Lefler
    Susan Lefler says:

    I found the explanations and meditation around the fall tridium both moving and inspiring. I would like to offer a title that has lately been a part of my early morning space and that I think you would love, if you don’t know it, Cynthia. It is a book of poems called Bucolics by Maurice Manning. All of the poems are framed as dialogue with “the Boss.” A few lines from poem # LXXII seem to fit in with your tridium mediation:

    “you leave a little night inside
    the flower Boss to keep it closed
    although the sun is up above
    the middle branches of the tree
    the flower has a little night
    inside it I can see it Boss
    a drop of pitch a pinch of sleep
    as if the flower wants the night
    to last a little longer than
    it does…”
    from Bucolics by Maurice Manning

    Thank you for this chance to be an ongoing recipient of your teaching through the blog [a word that I find most unwothy of what it represents. I wish we could invent a new one].

    Susan Lefler

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      I love the notion of a fall triduum. It seems perfect to me. Such a thin time, that is.
      Susan, you are the only other person I have ever known of who also knows Maurice Manning’s poetry. I love Bucolics very much. Those poems would be wonderful accompaniment for such a retreat.

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