It is All Saints Day. While only celebrated in a portion of the Christian family it is a significant time. It is an opportunity to all of us who try to live by faith to place our trust in persons who have gone before us. It is an opportunity to place before us names, stories, narratives, that can inspire and lift us up to engage our lives with some clarity. Failing this opportunity we tend to drift and when we drift we drift toward the status quo. So when our lives are filled with pain and challenges and tension if we don’t harness the sails of the Saints we go with conventional wisdom, do what our cultural norms dictates.
I like how people place images of these Saints in their midst. Here I am not referring to Icons and official Saints, though both of these practices are significant. I remember a man I visited who was facing a terminal diagnosis who placed Icons all around his bed. In particular there was the Saint Nicholas Icon that was very meaningful to this man, he placed it in his direct line of sight. We also know that when this current Pope was chosen he reached to the narrative of Saint Francis to frame the way he intended to serve. Since then almost every decision this Pope has made has carried with it the distinct narrative we know as Saint Francis.
But saints need not be canonized or found in Iconography. There are multiple persons we call on to inspire us, living and dead, but the number is likely not as many as you might assume. When we take the time to name these women and men we engage not only our thankful hearts but also what Buddhists call “our intention”. There are lives that we embrace and absorb that assist us to make sense of our own lives. It is not a matter of imitation. We know we are not like them, that our challenges are not theirs. But in the living out of choices by this special person or persons we see the way a life of faith can be processed and executed.
Many of us choose our parents when we search for saints. But if we are honest with ourselves we will discover that parents often fall into a different category, their love for us making them special and foundational to our identity. It is one thing to be grateful for a gift, it is another to be grateful for a life that was lived without a particular connection to us. In other words there are people we are grateful for because of what they did for us and there are people we are grateful to because of how they taught us to live. That latter group are the “Cloud of Witnesses” referenced in the Bible, the Saints who have gone before us, who guide us to be all that God wants us to be.
The saints I remember are those living and dead whose fragile hands and voices were made steady and purposeful when the crisis around them would normally have caused them to give up. They saw a way where there was no way, some on interpersonal matters, some in the community and some on a larger scale. And in each case they touched something larger that connected them to a spirit of generousity, courage and compassion. When I touch their life I feel like I touch Jesus’ life, I feel like my faith is dragging me where I need to go. And I know. Thank God for the saints who bring faith to life.