Wisconsin Synod Lutherans didn’t have much truck with saints. I never learned about a single saint as a Lutheran, even the one our church was named after. Saints were considered “a Catholic thing.”
Maybe Mother Theresa changed all that, bringing a certain celebrity to saintdom. I kind of doubt it. Even as an Episcopalian, I’ve never been completely comfortable with the word “saint.” Saints seem too holy to be human, too good to be believable, too self-sacrificing to be real.
And talk about dying brutal deaths! Read up on your saints and you’ll find that very few died in a meadow among the marigolds. Saint Barbara, for example (yes I looked her up) became a Christian against her father’s wishes and was subsequently whipped with clubs, burned with hot irons, ripped apart by iron claws and then beheaded, all with her father’s blessing.
One saint I do get is Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Anyone who understands that we are one with all creatures is okay with me.
This coming Sunday is All Saints Sunday, that day when we are encouraged to see the whole company of humanity from past to present as part of the family of God, and acknowledge that certain individuals across time have lived exemplary lives and have been touched and empowered by God in special ways (on Sunday we will have a lovely ritual to acknowledge those in our lives who have been saints to us).
Frederic Buechener (certainly a saint to me) explains that some people seem to draw special power from the Holy Spirit and because of this are essentially life-givers. “To be with them is to become more alive,” he says. I like this definition of saints. So who or what does that for you? Brings you more life?
For me, a grandmother who modeled hospitality through her nineties and always believed in me; a wonderful priest who blends deep spirituality with the finest mind I have encountered; a therapist who took my guilt away; my friend Jeanne who is the sounding board and co-creator of my sanity.
Sometimes saints are ones who have put words on a page or on a screen that give me a new perspective or a more gentle heart. The writer of Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
Or The Rev. Maclean in the movie “A River Runs Through It” — “For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
Jesus always calls us forward – to more service, more compassion, more life. He calls us to more passion and less complacency. More confidence and less playing it safe. More faith and less fear. And to the degree we can do this, we model saintliness. Saints are always over the top.
The words of the poet David Whyte in his poem “Sweet Darkness”:
“You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.”
See you in church.