Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
Who are these cloud of witnesses? I feel strongly that there are people who surround us with their witness, their inspiration, what they have left us as a gift? There are the obvious suspects, our immediate family, and we all can details the specifics of what a mother or father have left us, pieces of our character that come from him or her. Sometimes this is very authentic and powerful. Sometimes we might stretch that influence out of deference to their memory, who wouldn’t want to give due respect to a parent? But when we name someone who is not immediate family as a saint in our lives there can be no mistaking the honesty of this honour.
For some this saint is a teacher, for some a coach, for some a friend, for some a leader in some organization. I am intrigued when people choose someone they did not know personally, perhaps a world leader or spiritual guru or musician. These witnesses are not to be underestimated. I know countless women who came into their own thanks to the witness of Oprah Winfrey. I don’t know Romeo Dallaire but his life, words and speeches have had profound effect on me. But despite this influence we have never seen the person up close and personal and there is a quality of unreality to those relationships. We can sometimes make these persons into angels they were not because we don’t them, warts and all.
The beauty of the relationship with the person we know in person is that the witness is grounded in reality and the inspiration comes in the human flesh. The power of these cloud of human witnesses is such that we can identify with them, we know their flaws and yet we see their beauty. And in turn we then can see our own flaws and our own beauty. We can, because the witnesses are like us, imagine life in a new way. And we can’t talk ourselves out of change by using the excuse, “well, s/he is so much better than me, I couldn’t possibly become that compassionate.” With the person we know, seeing them in the true light of day, we can see that transformation is possible and it is possible within us.
Finally, why not write these cloud of witnesses and tell her/him about the difference s/he has made in your life? Such a gesture will have tremendous effect. As a Minister I can say that such letter mean the world to those witnesses who have been blessed to receive one. Often adult children will reference these letters at the funeral for their beloved parent.