In my protestant evangelical upbringing, what was November 1st? It was a binge day, a day to continue the feast of peanut butter cups and Tootsie Rolls. (I once spun Tootsie Rolls through a pencil sharpener in an effort to make kid-friendly chewing tobacco, but that's another story.) It was, quite simply, a day of self-indulgence.
As a child, I don't recall any sermons about All Saints' Day, that day set aside in the liturgical year for the celebration of the faithful followers of Christ. I don't recall pausing to reflect on those who'd gone before me, who'd served the church with fidelity. Perhaps we read the passage from Hebrews; perhaps we made a passing mention of Moses or Paul. But a feast day for saints? That was all too Catholic for us.
Too Catholic--what a dismissive backhand to our brothers and sisters.
Within the liturgical year, All Saints' Day comprises a celebration of the lives of the saints, known or unknown. It's the day to reflect on that great cloud of witnesses referenced in Hebrews 12. You remember Hebrews 12, don't you?
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...." (Heb. 12:1)
Those Saints--Francis and your grandparents alike--lived lives of perseverance. They ran the race well. Big brothers and sister, they serve as our role models of fidelity. They've left footprints for us to follow. Yesterday was their day.
In honor of All Saints Day, a few of us gathered on the back porch for a celebration. It was a multi-purpose celebration, a birthday-book-All Saint's mashup. We gathered in the collective, twinkle lights overhead, cake on plates.
I chose a few passages from Coming Clean, passages that reflected upon the lives of some more modern saints. I read them, tears welling at the lives of those who'd paved my path of faith. I'd like to continue that celebration here. I'd like to share one of those passages with you today.
My grandmother appeared in my dream last night. At the table, sitting next to me, her sad blue eyes were welling with tears. She was wearing a stern, kind smile. I’d seen this look before; it was her “I agreed to sponsor so-and-so in their twelve-step program” face. She reached from the head of the table to my isolated corner. She said, “I’m so proud of you, Seth. This is all going to work just fine. You watch.”
That was it. I woke warm.
What are dreams? Are they composed of magic, or of unpacked memories? Are they full of the thoughts of men, or of the echoes of souls departed?
Some psychologists claim that dreams are our attempt to organize junked-up thoughts. We recycle the useful, catalog it; we scrap the usable iron, send the rest to rust in the rain. Dreams are the winnowing fork, the way we separate wheat from chaff. At least, this is what the noggin doctors say, and I know this must be true, because the letters after their names evidence their expertise in noggin doctory. Maybe the nogginologists are right. But what if dreams are more?
In this life, we leave our marks on those around us. Perhaps some of those marks run more like record grooves. Suppose we can put a needle in the grooves; suppose we can play the best part of each other by way of dreams. Suppose my dream was a recording set for me long ago by my grandmother; suppose she left me this word for a day when I’d need it.
My grandmother is with Jesus, she a firm believer. Suppose the Spirit told her the right words to say so that I’d recall them at the moment I’d need them most. In that way, maybe my grandmother reached ahead of the grave, gave me the peace that, yes, it’s going to be okay. I’ll see. And she’ll be proud.
This is the believing.
It’s all going to be okay.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. May I hear the better wisdom of my grandmother.
You may not be a high church liturgist, or even a low church one. Your tradition may not include any celebration of the saints. But even if it's a day late, would you consider pausing and thanking God for our big brothers and sisters in the faith, our spiritual fathers and mothers? Would you name a few members of the great cloud of witnesses? It's a practice that transcends denominational affiliation. It's Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of Christ, Bible Church, and so forth and so on. Simply put, honoring the saints is Christian.
My prayer for the saints looks something like this: Lord, I thank you for Peter and Paul, Augustine and Francis, Mary Magdalene and Catherine, Leroy and Lerene Haines, George and Carol Mouk. Give us perseverance, so that we might live lives worthy of your kingdom, as those who've gone before us. Amen.