Last week I was part of three different services commemorating All Saints Day, the day in the Christian year when we remember those who’ve gone before us, who’ve inspired us, who’ve taught us, and are no longer with us.
Each year, there are more that I remember. Some are historic and named by tradition, but others are more personal.
Paul of Tarsus, that passionate and sometimes abrasive religious zealot who it had once made complete sense to that God wanted him to torture and kill those who had a different understanding of what God wanted.
Teresa of Avila, who said “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”
Her young friend, John of the Cross, who taught us of “the dark night of the soul” – the spiritual crisis that we may experience in our journey to know the unknowable God.
Teresa of Calcutta whose compassion for those suffering and dying persisted through decades of painful spiritual drought.
Fred Rogers, the patron saint of kindness and patience who became “as a child” and became an example of what it looks like to welcome to children.
Johnny Cash, whose raw humanity was never hidden. Who visited the prisoner and wore black in solidarity with all who suffer injustice.
Gene Ould, who found his calling confined by disease to a chair in the living room and spoke the love of Jesus to all he encountered from that chair.
Madelaine L’Engle, who first showed me Jesus beyond the boundaries I knew (she was an Episcopalian! Gasp!).
Martin Luther King, Jr. whose sins we’ve ignored for the sake of his profound sacrifice.
Oscar Schindler, a philandering businessman who loved luxury and saved so many lives.
C.S. Lewis. James Baldwin. John Campbell. Sylvia Rivera. Alexander Hamilton. Rich Mullins. Leonard Allred. Harvey Milk. Wayne Barber. So many more.
Some of those names you may know. Some you almost certainly do not. But they are all saints, and all so very human. But we make symbols out of saints and deny them their full personhood, and in doing so, deny our kinship with them as well. Their stories – if we really listen to them – tell us it’s in our deepest, weakest, flawed, mistake-prone, too-often-selfish humanity that goodness also exists. And it’s in our kinship across all boundaries that righteousness is found.
Saints are human beings, and humans are neither angels nor monsters, though we are capable of beautiful and horrible things. Great good and deep evil both. All of us. All the saints.
(The icon of the Dancing Saints is from St. Gregory’s Church.)