Each of us is the result of numerous interactions with those who flow through our lives. We, like God, are constituted by relationships of self-giving, attentiveness, and receptivity. Parents, siblings, grandparents, spouses, teachers at school and church, pastors, neighborhood friends, classmates over the years, and work colleagues leave an imprint on our lives. The time they give us, the kindness they display, are formative for personal identity.
As I was thinking over the many persons who have helped shape me, I remember the custodian of my elementary school. Mr. Shanahan served Longfellow School for over 40 years, mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms with good cheer (mostly) as rowdy children created their daily mess. I remember him for his kindness—and the fact that he gave me a job. I would ring the bell just after lunch, calling all back into the building for afternoon classes. He paid me a dollar a month in quarters. I felt exceedingly important—and responsible.
|Nine Ethiopian saints, ceiling fresco in Abuna Yamata Guh cave church, Tigray, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.|
Saints are not unapproachable figures, but regular folks around us through whom goodness shines. (You don’t have to be dead to be a saint!) They are the ones who notice children, slow down for elderly to catch up, offer words of blessing to the discouraged, perceive unrealized potential in others, provide hospitality to strangers, and make themselves available to God for continuing usefulness.
|Sheets, Millard, 1907-1989. Word of Life mural, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.|
The Gospel Lesson for All Saints (Matthew 25:1-13) recounts how Jesus blesses these saints among us: those whose spirituality retains questions; those who grieve over the violence of this world; those who live by the values of the reign of God, with meekness; those who cannot get enough of God’s goodness; those who do not judge their neighbors; those who pursue peace; those who suffer for doing good; and those who endure false charges against their character for the sake of following Jesus. These are saints, and they make the world bearable as they point to the patterns God imagines for human flourishing.
Yesterday as many churches celebrated All Saints Day, we heard again of a massive shooting at a small Texas church. The regularity of such carnage tests any complacency about the evil in our world. Access to assault rifles is a scourge, and we must call upon our legislators to enact stringent laws. The violence inscribed in armed service for our nation also contributes to diminished regard for human life, and moral injury contributes to impaired mental health.
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Saints swarmed the site, seeking ways to protect the parishioners, alleviate suffering, and provide emergency care. Serving as the hands and feet of Christ, these will do the hard work of burying, comforting, healing, and rebuilding community in the days ahead. We pray for their strength and courage.
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Frederick Buechner writes: “in holy flirtation with the world, God sometimes drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.” These handkerchiefs help dry the eyes of the grieving; they bind up wounds of the bleeding; and they remind us that God moves in our midst.
Molly T. Marshall