Spiritual Practices for Preaching
Of Souls and Saints: Celebrating All Saints and All Souls Days
All Saints Day is a time for both gratitude and inspiration. We are all saints in the making. We don't need to be canonized to be faithful to God or to make a difference in God's realm. We can be faithful to God, aligned with God's vision in this lifetime and continue to grow in grace beyond the grave. The stories of others inspire us to become souls of stature and love—little Christs and mahatmas (great souls)—in the here and now. We all can choose to be Christ-like or take the Bodhisattva's vow of compassion, whether or not we believe in reincarnation. We can vow to be Gods' partners in transforming the world. In my mind, this is what it means to be a saint!
A whimsical children's hymn from Great Britain, popular in the North American Episcopal churches, describes this saint-making process.
I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right for Jesus' sake
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
And there's not any reason, no, not the least,
Why I shouldn't be one too.
They lived not only in ages past;
There are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
In church, by the sea, in the house next door;
They are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
And I mean to be one too. (words by Lesbia Scott)
Simple though the theology may be, this hymn calls us to aspire for greatness—to expect great things from ourselves and expect great things from God. The pathways of saintliness begins right now and leads through everyday moments lived with compassion and mindfulness.
More majestic, the hymn "For All the Saints" describes the communion of saints that joins this world and the next in the quest to heal the world. This United Church of Canada version of William How's hymn awakens awe, gratitude, and commitment to God's world transforming cause.
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
all who by faith before the world confessed,
your name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
You were their rock, their fortress, and their might:
you were their captain in the well-fought fight;
you, in the darkness drear, the one true light.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one within your great design.
The golden evening brightens in the west,
soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day
the saints triumphant rise in bright array:
as God to glory calls them all away.
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
All Saints and All Souls are ultimately days of praise, days in which we remember that God is moving through our lives and the world, calling us—as God called those whom we call "saints"—to become more than we can imagine. And, the only proper response is "Hallelujah" and a life committed to bringing beauty and justice to the world.
When we would give up hope for ourselves and the world, let us remember the saints and our own identity as saints in the making, and let us live by the affirmation that "the good work God has begun in our lives God will bring to fullness...a harvest of righteousness." (Philippians 1:3-11)
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at email@example.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats.