All Saints Day entered my life when I was already in ministry in the church. The second church that I served had a lovely tradition of writing a liturgy for All Saints Sunday that was partly early Christian history, giving thanks for the apostles and early church leaders, and then it hopped, skipped and jumped through history and around the world to its final section in which it listed all the people in the congregation who had gone to be with God in the last calendar year, by name and by gifts and graces. It was a time of great gratitude and remembrance that opened a new dimension of the communion of saints to me, a new window to Grace.
This year I find myself musing on the “lost saints,” a phrase that Elizabeth Barrett Browning uses when describing the effect that the love that Robert Browning made in her. She celebrates the healing power of her married love in the grief that she felt when her family abandoned her after her choice to marry him. I am touched by that loss this year. In part I aware that some of my saints, those who have been faithful to the path of the Spirit in their lives and shed light for me, I have lost in ways that I mourn. I had two friends who died earlier this year, both of whom had been very instrumental in helping me find my way out of the places where I had begun in faith into seeing, sensing, knowing a wider reality of the ways ways that God works in the world, in the Church and in people. Yet in the years before their death we had been separated from each other by geography, by style and, I am afraid, by intention or inattention. Yet if were I to recount those whose ministry and friendship had brought me to the place I am now, their names would be very prominent.
I also ponder those whom I have lost by the “paths that diverged in a wood,” or by overly-taxed schedules, or by choices that precluded our encountering one another often. I have to admit that there have been those who left me when I took a particular turn in the road; I think of Paul writing in II Timothy saying: “all deserted me.” So I need to be quite clear when I think of those who became lost to me about the things that made the distance happen, and to be quite realistic about how many relationships one can sustain at one time, even if one were to be the world’s best correspondent or visitor. What I want to ponder here is habits of the heart I have that might lead me to lose people that God is still using to bring nourishment into my life, people for whom the good news continues to impel works of mercy and justice, and those from whom I can learn about faithfulness, suffering, presence and joy. I don’t want to lose people from of a spirit that got miffed, or an ego that became crushed, or a rigid spine that would not bend.
I am grateful this All Saints Day for all the saints who have touched my life, the ones that are at rest from their labors and the ones who are still at work in the fields of the Lord. And I live with hope of one day joining the gathering around the throne of the Lamb, and be guided to springs of water where God will wipe away all the tears from our eyes. Meanwhile, today and every day I want to keep my eyes, ears and heart open for the saints that come my way, and not lose one that the Spirit has brought to me for my wholeness, for building up of the people of the Church, and for God’s glory.