Sunday, November 4, 2012

All Saints Day, 2012: Living like the saints we are

Lectionary: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y el Espiritu Santo. Amen.

In his book, The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner said: "…to be a saint is to know joy. Not happiness that comes and goes with the moments that occasion it, but
joy that is always there like an underground spring no matter how dark and terrible the night. To be a saint is to be a little out of one's mind, which is a very good thing to be a little out of from time to time. It is to live a life that is always giving itself away and yet is always full." Source.

“To be a saint is to be a little out of one’s mind…” he said. Finally, a qualification for sainthood I can meet! I live a little bit out of my mind all of the time. I always have, especially when it comes to my spiritual life. I know many others (even some here) who could say the same, but mostly don’t because, well… people will think they’re out of their minds.

Buechner is right though – a saint is one who has access to an invisible well-spring of live-giving water no matter how dark and terrible a night they are experiencing. The truth is we are all saints. We all have access to that spring. Christ promised it and it is true. We also have a cloud of witnesses, the whole company of heaven, praying for us and walking with us through the vicissitudes and fortunes of our lives.

When I was only 4 years old, I experienced a terrible trauma in the world. While it was happening, a lady came to me (in the spiritual sense) and held me her lap in a tender embrace. She whispered love and comfort to me even while violence was happening to me in my earthly experience. I knew I was safe with her and that I would make it through the nightmare I was experiencing.

This is the first spiritual experience that I can remember and it blessed me with a deep and lively spiritual life that has kept me connected to God and the saints in heaven all these years. I knew from this experience that no matter what was happening here on earth, I was always safe because I had friends in heaven who would come when I needed them. I knew that God was holding me and my life in a love that was true and powerful – truer and more powerful than anything the world could offer.

Growing up Roman Catholic, I first understood this lady to be Mary, the mother of Jesus – which is where my life-long devotion to the Rosary originates. I later came to understand that the lady who came to me, the lap that held me that day – was God. It was God herself who comforted me. It was God himself who protected me. That was when I came to understand the gender fullness of God.

I was too young back then to judge my spiritual experiences as unusual, or crazy. They were just mine.

I knew that Mary was Jesus’ mother, but I experienced Mary as my mother too, my heavenly mother who would come near whenever I needed her. Because of that, I believed - in the innocence of my childhood faith – that all of the saints in heaven were also there for me.

As a Roman Catholic, we may not have spent a lot of time learning the Bible, but we did learn the saints, and I for one, am grateful we did. I was hungry to know the breadth of the spiritual friends available to me and I couldn’t wait to meet them in the books I read and on the saint’s days we celebrated in church.

As I grew in my life of prayer, I learned how to ask for their help when I needed it. For example, most of you know that I am an introvert. Well, as a kid I was also a tomboy. As an introverted tomboy, I used to relish my time alone in the woods, communing with nature and restoring my peace.

I have always loved bugs, snakes, and critters. I felt like they were my friends too and that they participated in my prayer as I sat in the quiet of the woods watching them be. I felt like the trees lifted their branches in prayer with me as we praised God.

I used to pray the Sanctus with them in the woods. I believed I could because I believed then what I would later come to hear in the Episcopal Church in Eucharistic Prayer D (the one we’re using today): “Countless throngs of angels stand before you to serve you night and day; and, beholding the glory of your presence, they offer you unceasing praise. Joining with them, and giving voice to every creature under heaven, we acclaim you, and glorify your Name, as we sing (say)… Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.” (BCP, 373)

Is it any wonder I found my spiritual home in the Episcopal Church?

The communion of saints is real for me. I hope they are for you too. If they aren’t now, I highly recommend them to you. To get to know them, all you have to do is ask, then wait with an open heart.

For the more Protestant among us, let me say it like this. We pray for one another all of the time, don’t we? It’s what friends do. We don’t hesitate to ask someone for their prayers when we need their support or want to share our joy. We don’t ask them for prayer because we need them to intercede for us – we all have direct access to God ourselves. We ask them because we want their companionship in prayer as we navigate difficult moments or celebrate happy ones in our lives.

The same is true about our spiritual friends among the communion of saints in heaven. These are friends who went before us and know what it’s like to try to live faithfully here on the earth.

It’s also true about our spiritual friends among the communion of saints on earth. They are the simple and the special, the ordinary and the extraordinary… the young and the old… the brilliant and the simple-minded. They are whoever is present in our lives, whoever God has given to us to love.

Some of these saints challenge us and try our Christian virtue. Some of them open our closed minds by their innocence or their faith. They soothe our tired souls with their compassion, and nourish us with their prayer and friendship.

It is these saints, the saints on earth, who enable us to obey Christ’s command to go to those, like Lazarus, who are walking around spiritually dead or dying from their earthly experiences and set them free to live in the fullness of joy found only in Jesus Christ who overcame death and the grave once for us all.

So let’s bring down the boundaries we’ve built up in our minds and in our faith - the ones that keep us safe and sane and separated from one another. And let’s be a little out of our minds, being led by God in that procession of saints who were, saints who are, and saints who are yet to come.

Let’s claim the spiritual strengths each of us has been given for the benefit of the kingdom. Then let’s nourish those strengths, here in the company of this faith community, so that we can give them away.

Let’s live like the saints we are, knowing that the more we give of ourselves and our lives, the more we and the world will experience the fullness of God’s love, and the more the kingdom of God will be manifest on the earth. Amen.

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