Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(Throne of Heaven, from a gradual by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, 1370.)

What is a saint?

What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.

-Leonard Cohen, "Beautiful Losers" (1966)

I have to admit I have had a life-long voyeuristic love affair with the saints--Not just all the ones we recognize in the Episcopal Church, but all the Roman Catholic ones, too. It probably has more to do with growing up with childhood "best friends" that were Roman Catholic.

My childhood best friends came from a Roman Catholic family of six rather ill-spaced children. They all attended the local parochial grade school in my home town. Part of what they had to learn in, as we say around here, "Cat-lick school" included the lives of the saints. I learned about the saints by osmosis, as I often helped them with flash cards for their lessons. Now truthfully, we were most interested in their gruesome deaths back then--the "gross" factor ran high in this learning activity. But the secret fun for me was, growing up LCMS, I was dabbling in what I was told was "wrong"--Lutherans don't care much for saints and the ones they acknowledge barely get a passing nod. Oh, they have a calendar with saints but growing up, they seemed to be treated more like the mentally ill relative living in the basement.

So I have to admit, my love affair with the saints was heavily based on the "forbidden fruit" aspect of it.

I have somewhat mixed emotions about the Episcopalian treatment of the process. We kind of have this weird "two track" system. We don't canonize any new saints that are after the establishment of the church. But we have feast days tacked on for men and women subsequent to that, and these folks are considered holy people. Yet, they don't get to be called saints. That always seems a little unfair to me, because I think they, in fact, ARE saints in their own regard.

Even though I personally think the Roman Catholic process of canonization is slow, tedious, and horribly political, I actually do like the idea that we mere mortals can aspire to be saints. Fr. James Martin had a recent really nice piece on the saints that made, of all things, HuffPo.

Now, aspiring to be a saint, at first glance, doesn't sound like a huge amount of fun. It sounds all full of piety and sacrifice and fasting and whipping oneself with a cat-o-nine-tails or something. But I submit to you that saints walk all over the earth today. We just don't recognize them with feast days, and I submit to you the saints themselves don't even know they are saints three-quarters of the time. I submit to you that each of us has had life experiences that put each and every one of us in glancing view of sainthood.

I think back to a time someone called me "a saint." It had to do with taking care of my friend M. as he was early in his dementia. They had been watching me deal with him on a particularly trying day, and told me I was a saint. I was immediately embarrassed and ashamed, although I didn't admit it.

I thought to myself, "They don't see me on the days I'm not very good at this. They didn't see me frustrated that I was late for work again b/c he won't put on pants. They don't know about the times I am already crying b/c I miss my best friend and pathologist confidant. I am not a saint. I'm a big fraud."

But here's the kicker--it's not our holiness, it's not our piety that puts us in view of the company of's our humanity. As Martin points out, the saints had lives that were...well...kinda weird. They had abusive parents, strange opposers, moments of huge weakness, and failure left and right. They had weird spiritual practices. For some of them, mental illness of certain types in their era was actually a plus. Nowadays, hearing voices from God gets you branded "crazy as a loon"--not holy.

The saints were very--VERY--human. They were more like us than we care to admit. So often we run from our humanity, but what made the saints different is they somehow were able to embrace their own flawed human nature as a child of God. But I bet they thought of themselves as frauds once in a while, too.

The other way to look at this is that as humans, we are hard wired to love. Saints are merely people who heard God telling them ways to love "outside the box." M. was an iconic figure in his career at the University of Missouri. I realize now part of my love for him was to preserve the icon as long as I could--I'll be the first to admit I probably let it go too long--but what I will say in defense of that was when the dementia finally overtook him, I think he got to bring most of his dignity along for the ride. I know I always didn't do everything "right." I know I was not "holy" for most of it. Some days, I'm pretty sure I did nothing "right." But when I look back, I have no resentment and no regrets--it's how I now know it was the right thing.

I was called to love way outside the box and I did it, and when it was time to let him go, b/c I felt like I had done what I was called to do. I could let go. I think some people might have been a little surprised how quickly I let go. Again, I didn't always do that right, either. Because it hurt to let go, I was pretty short with some folks about it. It probably came off as "uncaring" sometimes.

But today, is the day we celebrate not just the "holy" in the Holy Men and Women, but the "human." Especially the human. The standard old prayer goes, "All you holy men and women, pray for us." I believe the saints have a special power of intercession, simply because they know enough to pray for the most human parts of us. My prayer today goes like this:

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.

Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God,
Have mercy on us.

All you holy men and women, pray for us.
All you holy men and women, pray for our humanity.
All you holy men and women, pray for our uncertainty in doing God's will.
All you holy men and women, pray for our stumbling through life and somehow occasionally doing the right thing.
All you holy men and women, pray for our anger, our snarkiness, and our sarcasm.

All you holy men and women, pray that we are unafraid to love.
All you holy men and women, pray that we see the good in ourselves.
All you holy men and women, pray we let our divine lights shine and not put them under baskets.
All you holy men and women, pray that we laugh and sing in the presence of God.
All you holy men and women, pray that we feel the touch of each other's hands when we are uncertain, squeeze them, and feel them squeeze back.

Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us. Amen.


Now, if you can allow yourself to be called a Saint--like Paul calls the people in Corinth or Thessolonika, then we understand that saints aren't those who have St. in front of their names--they are just the ordinary souls like you and me that live as we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit---that cloud of witnesses.

I like the idea of being a cloud--

Me too! I've always been a cloud-watcher...

I am a United Methodist, so I can't even begin to tell you how far I am away from observance of the saints. But as I have dabbled in the contemplative life, I have discovered the works of St. John of the Cross. The beauty in his writing bring tears to my eyes. I know he may have been considered rather odd, but I think it was an ability to think outside the box, and to love outside of their souls. God must have chosen folks he knew would be willing to "go there" darn the consequences.

I hear you. "Dark Night of the Soul," is one of the things I read when I feel spiritually stymied. Another one I go back to time and time again is Thomas a Kempis' "The Imitation of Christ."



Bookmark and Share

About Me

My photo
Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

Read the Monk Manifesto!

Light a Candle

Light a Candle
Light a candle on the site; click on an unlit candle to begin

Blog Archive

FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed


Sign my Guestbook from Get your Free Guestbook from

Thanks for visiting my blog!