A Reminder on All Saints’ Day

Photo by Adrienne Merritt on Unsplash

Tish Harrison Warren writes:

For a religious holiday, All Saints’ Day is surprisingly earthy. It reminds me that for all of us — so-called religious or non-religious people alike — faith and spirituality are shaped in profoundly relational ways. No one is a “freethinker.” None of us come to what we believe on our own.

For good or for ill, we believe what we believe because of our particular encounters with people and human communities. All systems of belief and practice are handed down in ordinary ways by people with particular names, faces, languages, traditions, limitations and longings.

In popular imagination, a saint is someone who is perfect and selfless, who dwells in holy ecstasy and impeccable goodness. “Don’t call me a saint,” Dorothy Day said. “I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”

But saints are imperfect people. And this is what draws me to this day. Christians don’t remember these men and women because they were perfect. We remember them because, like us, they were broken, selfish and fearful, yet God wrought beauty and light through their lives….

This broader global and ancient family expanded my vision of what Christianity is beyond the small confines of my culture, race and moment in time.

I learned about how Christians created orphanages and hospitals. I encountered Ephrem the Syrian, a poet and musician, who began women’s choirs and composed some of the earliest hymns for female voices, spreading literacy among women in the fourth century. He died tending the sick in a plague.

I read about Felicity, an enslaved woman who was martyred in the third century while offering forgiveness to her executioners. I learned about Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Catholic priest who hid thousands of refugees during the Nazi regime. Kolbe died in Auschwitz after volunteering to take the place of another prisoner who was to be executed.

But learning church history was also deeply disillusioning as I discovered how parts of the church have been complicit in white supremacy, colonialism, abuse, misogyny and astonishing evil. All faith stories are shaped by human communities, and these human communities often disappoint us.

In a cultural moment where want to divide all people and institutions neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys,” those on the right side of history and those who aren’t, the righteous and the damned, this day reminds us of the checkered and complicated truth of each human heart…

All Saints’ Day reminds me that God meets us, saints and sinners, despite our contradictions, and makes good out of haphazard lives. It tells me that all of us, even the best of us, are in need of unimaginable mercy and forgiveness.