Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Five: For All the Saints!

"Dancing Saints" at the Church of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco

Thursday marked the feast of All Saints, observed by many throughout the Christian world. And many of us will observe this feast in our churches come Sunday. As a Catholic schoolgirl, I certainly had one very specific idea of what constituted a 'saint.' As a woman in her prime (ahem!) who also happens to be a Presbyterian minister... I have other thoughts!

How about you? Let's talk today about saints, how we have understood them throughout our lives. Who inspires us? Who challenges us? Whose lives have stirred us to greater discipleship? Who just has the best story we've ever heard? Try to answer these questions in each of the following categories:

1. Saints of the Bible.

 This is truly tough: there are so many! I adore the stories, in particular, of the women whose lives are known to us these thousands of years later. How amazing is that? I suppose I must go with my beloved Mary Magdalene. I remember learning about 24 years ago, when I was first in grad school, that the things I thought I knew about Mary-- she was a prostitute, she was the woman taken in adultery-- had absolutely no basis in scripture. Mind. Blown. When I seriously studied her, and learned that the early church called her "apostola apostolorum"-- apostle to the apostles-- because of her presence at the empty tomb and her joyful transmission of the news of the resurrection to Jesus' other followers, I was hooked.

2. Saints from Church History/ World History.

That Catholic schoolgirl I mentioned in the introduction had several tiny books called "Miniature Stories of the Saints," and the idea of people whom the church had lifted up for canonization was my earliest understanding of what it meant to be a saint. Unfortunately, many, many of these stories had to do with young girls choosing to undergo hideous physical torture rather than let themselves be rendered impure by... well, I didn't really understand what, at that point. But it sounded like the stuff of horror films. Saint Agatha. Saint Agnes. Saint Rose of Lima. You do NOT want to know what happened to these women and girls.

On the other hand, there were women whose lives really did capture my imagination in ways that persisted. Claire of Assisi is one. She gave up a life of luxury because she chose instead to become a bride of Christ. The power of that story stayed with me, and Franciscan spirituality still resonates with me.

On the other hand, I consider someone like Harriet Beecher Stowe to be a saint in the vein of Mahatma Gandhi: someone whose witness opened the world's eyes to injustice, who took a "social problem" and made it flesh and blood for people who would just as soon have looked away. But after "Uncle Tom's Cabin," they couldn't any longer.

3. Saints from Our Own Lives.

Oooh... so many, too many to name. But I'll try: Sister Marguerite, who taught English at my high school and became a close friend of my mother. Sister (later Mother) Mary Francis, who wrote a terrific book about cloistered Poor Clares, and later corresponded with me when I was eager to join their ranks. My Aunt Natalie. Fr. Jim, who taught me that a Catholic girl could actually open a bible and read it. (Whoa.) Tish and Fr. Bob, chaplains at college, who opened up worship for me (and thousands of others) in ways I had not imagined possible. Kerry, who showed me that some good Catholic girls end up Protestant ministers. And then all the unnameable women and men of the churches I've served. People who lived-- who live-- lives of quiet, humble service, whose goal is simply to do what Jesus would do, whether that means welcoming people to the table or rushing to take part in disaster relief. People who blow me away daily with their faith, which is so superior to mine in every way.

4. Saints from Pop Culture

 Is there anyone I love more than Saint Anne Lamotte? Probably not. It is her authenticity that gets me every time. Her Facebook status today said, in part, the following:

"When people say cheerfully, 'Let go and let God,' I just want to stab them in the forehead. I know that is not the most Jesus-y and evolved thing you 'll hear today..."   

Except, it might be. Lamotte writes about real life. She has lived hard. She has struggled with addiction and single parenthood and the loss of her very best friend in the world to cancer, and she came from a family for whom religious faith was something embarrassing, like an uncle who talks too loudly and says all the wrong things when the Rolling Stones come to dinner. But Jesus found her, broken, shaking, in need of being saved. And so now she shares the learning of her life with us all, and I am so profoundly grateful for that.

5. Saints Absolutely (Probably?) No One Else in the World Would Ever Call Saints.

I'm gonna go with singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco.  I first heard her music about fifteen years ago, when she was taking the music world by storm by simply self-publishing and releasing her albums on her own record label, Righteous Babe Records. Her music isn't for everybody. It's filled with blue language, and fairly radical politics. She talks frankly about sexuality, and she identifies as bisexual. But beneath it all she sings a sense of justice that is positively biblical in nature, like an Old Testament prophet-- the sense that the world, as it is, is not right, and we have a responsibility to make it better. I love that in a cultural icon. Ani gets my vote. Here, a song about going to church and finding a wider lens.


  1. Oh, yes to all of the Saints you mention (well, I don't know the one's in your life from school, etc...but the rest).

    Never heard of Ani, but this is beautiful. Thanks!

  2. I love this and truly wish protestants in general were more devoted to reading lives of the saints and emulating them... so much richness. thanks for playing and hosting!

  3. I love that you and I both referenced female musicians for the "Saints Absolutely (Probably?) No One Else in the World Would Ever Call Saints!"

  4. All great mentions. I'll single out Stowe. Yes, please! I read Uncle Tom's Cabin in graduate school and it kind of blew my mind. I wrote a paper about how it was not just an Important book, but also a fine literary one if one understands biblical narrative and structure. FWIW. :-)

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