All the Saints

Rommelmarkt Brugge Augustus 2011

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

— William W. How, 1823-1897

This Friday is Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, the day before All Saints Day. And that saintly day, November 1, is set aside to celebrate the great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1), those living and those who have passed from this mortal life, and yet who remain in Christ.

“All the saints.” I have been rolling that line around in my mind as I’ve thought about this particular saintly day to remember the faithful many, known and unknown to us. In our hyper-connected, globalized world, we have the capacity to know more of the saints today than just those who populate our church calendars, or who have shrines and gift shops replete with religious kitsch throughout Europe. But still so many are unknown to us; their cultural and political contexts are foreign to us. They don’t have to be otherworldly porcelain figurines to seem otherworldly to us.

But all saints everywhere have much in common. The saints of today are not unlike the saints of yesterday, or even of a thousand years ago. Invariably, their lives of piety and faith are thrust into public life. Their lives reverberate beyond their closets of prayer. Much as some would try to avoid the world and its entanglements, like the desert hermits of antiquity, the world still comes to them. Their holiness is attractive, even if it seems foreign.

And, equally invariably, the saints have closets of prayer that are literally stuffed with prayers, like the paper prayers jammed into the Western Wall in Jerusalem. If anything, saints are people who pray; whose prayer is their work, and whose work is their prayer. They have heard the Lord’s intimate call to them, and they have sought to live their lives in faithfulness to him, fully orbed and fully fleshed. They are friends of God; they long to hear his voice and speak to him as a friend speaks to another. Many were and are people with “religious vocations,” but many are also deeply and surprisingly engaged in public life and the world.

“All the saints.” Around the world, there are saints today who are seeking to witness to the truth about God and people, like the saints in Hong Kong. (For instance, if you missed last Thursday’s post by Bob Fu, stop reading this and go there first.) As we at Missio want to help our readers connect their lives with God’s own work in the world, we also want to connect our lives with others around the world who are seeking to live faithfully, to live in response to God’s voice, in every facet of their lives. We have much to learn from the saints, those living, and those who have passed.

The saints are also very human, and we may at times see their faults and weaknesses more acutely than their saintliness. (E.g., recall with what ferocity Christopher Hitchens played a very public, sneering devil’s advocate against Mother Theresa.) The saints try to see through the dark glass of life as we do too. They seek to do what is right, what is just, what is loving, what is good, in the midst of what seems like prevailing wrong, dominant injustice, hatreds and evils.

Since we heard from Bob Fu last week, I’ve been trying to peer a bit more into the corners of blogged conversation about the Umbrella Protests in Hong Kong, so-called because the protestors came “armed” with umbrellas when tear gas was used against them. It’s a world I’m not very familiar with, but from what I see, I see the saints doing what they do — in all their glorious humanity, with all their faults and weaknesses, their best attempts at faithfulness and public good. They are people seeking to make sense of what they know of God, and the way God made people, and the way their lives are lived where God has placed them. I’ve been reading Dr. Sam Tsang (check both of his blogs: Engage Scriptures, and Engage the Pews) who’s written for Missio before; and Justin Tse, whose mind is astoundingly thick with insights and knowledge; and trying to listen to others. As Dr. Tse wrote: “As long as we keep Hong Kong as over there, and the Tiananmen Spring as something that happened over there all the way back when, then it’s something that they have to deal with. But [what] if we recognize that they are in fact us, and that their quest for political agency is our our quest to rediscover political agency… .”

We need these voices. I’m hoping we can host more of them here on Missio in the coming months; to keep shining bright spotlights on good work in the world. You and I, in our vocations, need to know these saints. Our lives are implicated in their lives, and they in ours, as members of one body, the great cloud of witnesses.

Photo: Filip Maes

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