As I write this note to you on All Saints’ Day, I am keenly aware of two things that, though they have nothing to do with saints, major or minor, have invaded my consciousness this afternoon. One is the amount of leftover Halloween candy, which presents the question of how much of my life I will give over to this year’s sugary stash. I’ve been circling it all day long, trying to decide to disfigure it in some unappetizing way, before casting it into the garbage. The disfiguring notion is a vain hope that, should I subsequently dig the candy from the detritus bag, I’d be too ashamed to eat it. Pitiful: I know. The second thing the day reminds me is that today is the de facto beginning of the holiday madness. In Walgreens earlier today, the aisles were so choaked with Christmas boxes being unloaded I could hardly navigate in search of Diet Coke to wash down the candy binge I had planned! Though I can’t swear to it, I am pretty sure I heard “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” quietly playing overhead. Perhaps the rendering of that old favorite was pianissimo because even the stereo system was shamed by its early appearance!
But now satiated, in fact on a sugar high, writing fast before the crash, I am now motivated to think of the day at hand. All Saints’ Day is not a day I grew up celebrating in the First Baptist Church of Houston, MS. We were leery of saints, suspecting I am not sure what—I suppose that if we acknowledged their existence someone would create an image of one and commence praying to him/her. Over the years, though, All Saints’ and All Souls’ days have come to be among my favorite in the church year. I now find comfort in imagining a cloud of witnesses, folks, holy and not so holy, pulling for me, pulling for all of us. For fear that overthinking it will rob me of this sense of being mystically held and supported from beyond, I don’t put too fine a point on it, attempting and mercifully succeeding in simply being grateful.
Inevitably the day also causes us to ponder our place in the next life, an existence in which most Americans continue to believe according to recent polls. We are an oddly religious sort, odd in the sense that though postmodernism purportedly has won the day, we still profess belief in such things as life beyond. I have a priest friend, a good friend in fact, who claims that this is it—the end of the story, that dust to dust means just what it says. I also have friends, modern in every other way, who regularly talk to deceased loved ones from whom they purport to receive immense help and others who light candles and offer prayers to various saints for this or that with the fervor of babushka women, whose prayers have held up the whole world from time to time and whose faithfulness I strangely find myself more, rather than less, drawn to the older I get. The idea of just slipping into the back of a church that smells like church (incense for me) and sitting, praying, hoping—or whatever it is exactly they do—has increasing appeal to me.
It has been both my privilege and my burden to experience death a bit more closely and more frequently than the average Joe; all of us in this “business” have. Those whom I have known in life and death have not ceased to be. I still know them. They, particularly those to whom we are deeply connected, are here, present, present in our lives and our hearts, living in the fabric of our souls and beings. We know them still as surely as we know anything. And though now this knowing occurs through a different filter, they remain a veiled presence that sustains us, holds us, believes the best of us, and calls us to deeper and deeper truths about us and God. Saints – big saints, little saints, in between saints – affect us. They shape us, sometimes twisting and contorting us and sometimes sculpting us into the marvelous creatures we had no chance of being without them.
It is a treasured mystery and one I pray never to lose.