What Is a Saint?

With his usual penchant for humor, my husband reminded me on the way home from church that he is named for a saint, Matthew, and that I—well—am not. I didn’t need his reminder that I’m not a saint, but since I tend to be terminally serious, I do need him to remind me to laugh and enjoy this beautiful life I’ve been given.

Today is All Saints Sunday. Our church explains the service in this way:

All Saints celebrates the baptized people of God, living and dead, who make up the body of Christ. Today, many congregations will remember the faithful who have died during the past year. Our worship abounds with references to the saints and our continual relationship with them. Today and this week, we reflect on the lives of people – both the living and the dead – who have moved and supported others by their lives of faith.

I went into the service thinking of my friend Jane Ann, who died in September, leaving behind a 15-year-old daughter, a 90-year-old father, and scores of friends who miss her every day. Jane Ann would not have thought of herself as a saint, nor would she want her daughter or her loved ones to remember her as perfect. But she was, more than almost anyone I know, perfectly and gloriously human, and as her fourth grade teacher wrote on her Facebook page, her legacy is that she always, always reached out to help others. But she never forgot the healing power of a great big belly laugh.

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as saints, but my pastor reminded me this morning that even those we do consider the saints of the church weren’t perfect. But they were people who, like Jane Ann, never lost the optimism that their lives could make a difference in the world. I loved the way my pastor closed the service.  I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t remember her exact words:

On this post-hurricane, pre-election, All Saints, communion Sunday, we need to remember that ours is a God of justice, freedom, and forgiveness….a God who is enough for us all—enough for you, enough for me.

I needed this reminder, too. I beat myself up sometimes for spending more time thinking about helping people than actually helping people. The magnitude of the need in our world sometimes overwhelms me. I’m reminded of a character in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, who wrote about the sorrows of others and put the papers into the cracks between the rocks in the wall that lined her property. After a time, she became so overwhelmed with the agony of others that she went to the river and lay down, a rock on her chest, and drowned herself in others’ sorrows.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we all know how easy it is to be swept away in the raging currents. But this morning at church we were asked, if we could, to fill up a five-gallon bucket with cleaning supplies and tools to send to the victims of the hurricane.

We are little good to ourselves or others if we take on too much of the pain and anguish of a world where the needs are so great. We do need time to lay our burdens down and gaze in wonder at the blue sky and the gentle roll of the mountains in the distance.

But I wonder what would happen if every single person who was able would fill up just one bucket and carry a little bit of the burden. What a difference that might make in our world!

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