saints among us
growing up as i did, putting head to my pillow night after night, plotting the ways i too might stretch a fist toward the heavens, palm a star, take it home in my pocket, i’ve been a student, for a very long time, of this saint thing.
over the years, and there’s now been nearly half a whole century (i’m excluding the year before 1 in my counting, thinking i’d not yet started my saint watch, certainly not before i escaped from my old maple crib), i have scanned not only the heavens but also the earth.
i have looked in the unlikeliest spots. picked through crowds motley and noisy. spotted the sole possessor of what could only be called saintly demeanor.
the one soul in the room who walked with the grace of an angel, who did immeasurable good with nary a flurry. just wafted through life, sprinkling a dust that might be called golden. only really it’s the dust of a kindness that’s quiet, that’s real and that changes the course of the day and the week and year after year.
or perhaps it’s the radical loudmouth. the one who will not be still, not till justice is done. hallelujah, i say, to the one not afraid to ruffle the feathers.
either, or. in between. there are those who inspire, who stir, who dig deep inside, and rise up triumphant.
i am a student of all.
yes, it’s true, and i’m saying it now, i have, all my life, looked for and collected stories of saints the way some might collect maybe a shell on the beach. or a small metal race car.
only the saints that i’ve sought, the ones who i’ve watched and i’ve studied, are not off in some dusty old tomes. no. they’re right here among us.
in my brand of religion, in my excursion through living, i am drawn to the study of decency down in the ditches.
i am not so caught up in the tales of the medieval saints (though i do find the story, say of christina the astonishing, she who pinned herself to a windmill, to escape the stench of human sin, well, rather astonishing).
nor do i get too bogged down–not at all really, vehemently not–in the twists and the tangles of tape that declare, in white puffy smoke, so-and-so is a saint.
blkkh. a saint is a saint is a saint. i know one when i see one. and i don’t need a committee to tell me.
i know, when in the presence of someone who’s saintly, that some sort of peace settles the waves of the room. or sets the waters to rocking.
either way, soft or loud, hushed or blasted through megaphone, it is as if some fine inner core is tapped, is let loose, and everyone breathing the air–everyone with a nose for these things–suddenly is filled with a rarefied mix of poison-free breath.
there is, in the saintly, an eye on the prize that is wisely removed of personal gain. it is as if she or he is operating purely for good. no strings attached.
take, for instance, one of the saintly i’ve gathered in just the last week: the soccer coach who started out substitute teaching in one of the toughest schools in chicago, realized the kids had no gym class, started early morning soccer. then realized kids, first to fourth graders, were coming to school with no breakfast. so he started to feed them. he’s not even 30, and he says he feels like he has a family of 50. the kids call him at all hours of the day and the night. and he always answers.
or maybe it’s merely the friend who came and who got me, took me away. took me out to the country. took me away from the things that had been filling my head, weighing down my heart.
or the lady i know, who week after week, brings dinner to this friend or that. to friends who are old, who never get out. and she’s able, so she cooks and she drives and she fills their saturday nights. with small talk and deep talk. whatever they want. she tidies their kitchens, and then she drives home.
you might say, well your bar is not high. certainly any one of those souls had a good day, followed by a bad day. yes indeed that’s the point, now that we’re moving along here. i don’t know anyone flawless. don’t expect it.
but i do know that each of us has what it takes, to reach down inside, to pull out a turnip of goodness. of bigger than bigness. we each, all of us, possess sparks of divine.
the point then is to kindle the light. touch one flame to another. to get this ball burning. before it gets dark.
if we each spend one minute, one spark of the day, living beyond our small little selves, well then fairly soon we’ve gone and we’ve ignited a bonfire. a fire that will not be stopped.
so in the end we seek not to become enrobed in all white, wafting perfumes of the heavens. heck, no. we aim to become big in small little moments.
we put down the long list of things we must do, and instead we call on a friend. a friend who is hurting. we don’t call, we just come. we sit where their sorrow is spilling. in a hospital waiting room. or there on the stoop of their house.
we lift their load. we make them a big pot of soup. we make their beds. we take off with their children, just to give them the peace of an hour.
or maybe we’re saintly with even a stranger. maybe we look in the eyes of the man who is begging for dollars. maybe for a minute we imagine what it is to be cold and alone, to have been a young child, of 7, who woke to a place where no one was home. who walked down a stairwell that reeked of bad smells. and getting to school was a matter of life and possible death. who knew any minute furor could strike.
or maybe the stranger is there in some fancy shop. but you find out from listening that really her life was as sad and as empty as the guy up above. how she grew up in a house so huge she could be lost for hours on end. and no one, not the mother who drank, or the father who worked till late in the night, ever came looking, to feed her or hug her. how she doesn’t remember one single hug from her mother. and her mother just died.
today is the day called all saints. every year, growing up, we stopped and we honored the saints.
i honor them now. but not usually the dead ones. i study, i watch and i learn from the very alive ones. i take mental notes. i scribble on paper.
there are saints all around. and if you collect them, your world will be shiny. and so will your heart.
it’s a soft gentle glow that you seek. or maybe a bold one that blinds you. either way, you’ll know when you find it.
and who knows, there might be a scent in the air. it might be that of the heavens.
might as well reach for the stars, pluck one and carry it home.
imagine the scrap book of saints. those are pages i do want to keep. want to turn. want to soak into my heart.
here at the chair i often go out on a limb. take today, for instance. might as well launch a campaign. a saintly one. canonization begins here. feel free to scribble your thoughts on the saintly among us. nominations are welcome. or just keen observations on those all around you who make you more than you were before they criss-crossed your path. may your all saints day be blessed.
and bless those of you, who in very big ways, teach me, day after day, what it is to be saintly on earth.
I am a “saint fan”. I would hang out in the back of church to read the booklets taking up time before returning to mass. I think, in a way, saints were sort of super-heros for our time. Maria Gorettii was a particular favorite of mine…not to mention Joan of Arc. They had major drama and life conflicts going for them. But, all that being said…the everyday saints are what keeps us all going…whether we are aware of them or not. An old friend from my “waitIng on tables” days passed a couple of weeks ago. He taught at Lane Tech. Today was the school’s moment to remember him, on the Feast of All Saints – or All Souls Day. Our “tribe” attended..our group that has stayed together for these thirty-some years, bonded by pooling tips, sharing lockers, and intense life experiences. Our dear friend left suddenly and has left a hole in a few communities. Listening to the Lane Tech community share their memories was profound. The person they described was the person we all knew also…he loved his students, his teaching comrades, his family and friends. He was no saint, but he was a saint which reflects one of his quotable quotes….”Well…that is true, but at the same time is it not true.” We will miss our saintly friend….and, as he was fond of singing, We are the world, we are the children. Bless the saints among us.
i know a saint and the saint is you, dear big-hearted one. happy all-souls to you!
bbbbbbaaaaaaaa! (does that sound like the penalty buzzer it is intended to sound like?) anyway, that there is a whistle on the court. not allowed. no nominations of chairladies permitted. although there is mary, seat of wisdom, the school we at ol’ holy cross loved to play against for all the cheerleading possibilities, which i will leave unmentioned as they should be. your kindness is lovely. and since i’ve never yet muffled a comment, i could not do that here. but holy cow, that’s embarrassing. and besides you snuck it in without notice, coming in a day after the fact. the stealth nominator. wish my ol friend maureen, she with the hysterical stories of medieval antics, might stroll along here and tell us some really astonishing tales….she’s got more saints up her sleeves than even the nuns in their long, flowing habits…..anyone else ever wonder how they stuck the whole rubber-tipped pointer up that sleeve, ready to yank it out and rap it on knuckles at the slightest provocation????
all saint’s day will be forever changed for me, because of news I received today.I received news that a dear dear friend of mine was tragically killed on all hallow’s eve. This friend and mentor was 67 years-old and after driving home from church choir practice, he encountered a neighbor at 9 pm on his remote lakefront road. This neighbor was trying to clear a tree that had blocked entrance to their driveways. As my dear friend bowed down with a chain saw to cut down the fallen tree and was hit by a driver on this dark wooded road.This man, died, in a moment of helping others. This man is a physician, who has traveled around the world helping the NIH eradicate Polio in developing countries. This man lived his life helping others and I grieve his loss deeply right now.As I lift him up as a saint of this world, I also am reminded than many people have died in similar ways and I give thanks for those who give till the last moment.
I have three friends who died all too young and they each seem to qualify as pretty darn saintly in their own different ways. For awhile I was–sometimes still am–angry at God for taking away these folks who accomplished SO much for good, so much for others, massive mountainous acts of selflessness, joyfulness, faithfulness. What could possibly be the use of getting rid of people who did so much for God’s kingdom? (Not a one of them, I should hasten to add, would have ever referred to themselves in these terms, this designation “saint.” ) Anyway, around about when the third one died my anger had reached the boiling point and right at that time–somehow–it came to me, all of a sudden, quietly, that maybe, just maybe, God had even greater need of these folks in heaven than he had here on earth. Some very big, very important work. Merely that speculation has helped me accept the sorrowful realities of what seem to be senseless deaths of extremely useful and much-needed folks. I’m so sorry, slj, to hear of your loss–and what must be a loss to so many. With these types of folks there are always many who feel the loss.I digress a little. I love saints too. But I have to confess I love the long-gone ones. I know, I know–they’re just too weird. If some of those folks had lived nowadays they’d be institutionalized. No question. But there are many I’ve found in my adopted tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy who are real, likable, human-seeming. Every year I learn a little more about them, at about this time. My church has a night dedicated to learning about them (that would be Halloween, and this little church event in honor of All Saint’s Eve saves me from the later-evening Halloween scariness that is rather the norm in my neighborhood). The little kids dress up and say riddles about who they are, and the congregation guesses, or fails to do so. This year the little guys fooled lots of us. St. Eloy–never heard of him–was a wealthy goldsmith who used his wealth his whole career to feed and clothe the poor; he continued his cash-accumulating and disseminating goldsmith ways even after being named a bishop and until his death. St. Herman of Alaska prayed most of the time, and the rest of the time he spent helping his people the Aleuts through sickness, poverty, and attacks on their land and lifestyles by Russian industrialists. Ruthless Olga, the first female ruler of Russia, also paradoxically became the first Russian saint on account of her later conversion to Christianity and introduction of it to Russia. St. Xenia (sp?) of Petersburg, formerly wealthy and then ending up homeless, today the patron saint of the homeless. (Anyone know the homeless had a patron saint?) These folks, they seem real, not bizarre, at least not mostly so. What I take away from them is that loving God first, changes a person–and changes everyone and everything around such a one.I think the main reason saints look so darn weird is that they are quite countercultural. They are this way because it is imperative to break from one’s cultural mandates–fraught as they usually are with vulgarity, violence, and self-serving–in order to follow a different path. And even this break assures that one will appear hopelessly out of touch, out of step, ridiculous–or maybe just foolishly optimistic, impossibly devoted to hope, and heedless of his or her own advancement. In a word, weird. You modern-day saint seekers assure me that there are folks out there like this right now, so in addition to perusing the martyrologies and the history books I’ll try to focus a little more on the present, keep my eye out for these folks who can teach me to be countercultural, foolhardy, and first of all, loving.
oh my goodness, here on a chilly november’s morn, a morn so cold my finger bones are still trying to shake off the shivers.,,,i read slj up above and i am dumbstruck. oh sweetheart, the ache you feel bounced right off the screen and into my heart. the newness of the news, the suddenness, and all of the circumstances. i ache for the hole left in the world, and imagine the one left in an intimate circle of ones who loved him and learned from him. any mentor of yours is a mentor of all of ours, as you exude wisdom so freely, so with abandon. to be struck in the dark, in the woods, bent in posture of utter humility. it is heartbreaking and huge. i am soo sorry. saint, indeed.and then jcv, why you pulled out saints i never have heard of. you’ll be in competition for sure with my dear friend maureen, she who so often entertains me with her stories of saints esoteric, and too long forgotten. this being a digital world she sends me links to places where i can read marvelous lyrical accounts of said saints. of course you back up your unpeeling of saints with a wise analysis of the countercultural aspect of saintliness. you fortify and remind me, the friction we sometimes feel, breaking loose from the mainstream, seeing everything so very upstream while all around us the fishies float south, is the very angst and essential tension of those intent on turning this ship before it goes down on our watch. how’s that for a fish stew of metaphors. ah well. it’s early. it’s cold. the point, i hope, escaped through all of the fumes…..i go back to slj, there are no words for comfort. only the unfolding, the smoothing of time, and the fact of the power of story. in your telling us just a bit of his story, at least some of us soak it in, and carry on with a molecule of his essence now within us. and isn’t that the point of a saint after all? to lift us, one corpuscle at a time, out of our ordinariness into the realm of the holy, the sacred, the larger than life…..blessings, all.