It is almost November, All Saints Day, and the roses that still bloom in my garden come from a saint named Marianne. Marianne was a parishoner in a church I served. When I first became aware of her, she was married to a Husband-in-Charge, so it was very hard for me to know much about who she was. Faithfully occupying the same pew every Sunday morning, she seemed like one of those members of the flock you could count on to be there, but not a lot else. What I didn’t know then was that she was a first rate, innovative elementary school teacher, who was beloved of a host of previous students that she had taught in years past. She also taught other teachers to teach well, kindly and effectively. And then, she retired from regular teaching, and then she became a widow. It was at that juncture that I began to see her for the saint that she was.
In my tradition a saint is one who follows God-in-Christ, and Marianne did that gloriously, and had done so long before it was visible to me. This person I had seen as quiet and passive was an active purveyor of of acts of mercy and justice. As a deacon she was wiling to come alongside the most complicated situations of need with love and grace. As an elder she was willing to brave facing the loud and shrill voices of entitlement and legacy to advocate for those on the margins. She waded into the complex waters of family conflict in order to be peace where there was no peace. And she was fearless in her pursuit of the love and wisdom of the Holy One, driving by herself across several states in order to spend Easter at a monastery that observed the rituals and rhythms of Holy Week.
When I left that parish for a new call, Marianne gave a me a gift of creative joy and love that has become emblematic to me of what Scripture calls the “beauty of holiness.” In the many weeks that we had been sitting together in a contemplative prayer group, sometimes weeping, sometiems rejoicing, we had discovered a poem by Marge Piercy, called “Sutter’s Gold and the Rainbow’s End.” Speaking of particular breed of rose, Piercy says:
I picked the Sutter’s Gold to remind me/I may love myself a little/even when my work is done,/that many things are beautiful beside art,/that if the rosebush can sit in the frozen earth during a dormant season/maybe I can learn to work without/anxiety running its ripsaw in my throat/to bear those peculiar paper flowers/which carry their centre/ both birth and death, let go/and live on.
Marianne and I both loved that word of hope in the season in which we were living, and shared our delight. When time came for me to move on, she ordered a Sutter’s Gold Rose and three others to be delivered to my garden, to me, a non-gardener with a propensity for a black thumb, and had them planted where they continue to bloom today seventeen years later, a continual reminder each morning of the beauty of God’s creation–roses, unlikely people, holiness in action.
The old hymn says, The world is bright with the joyous saints who loved to do Jesus’ will. My world today is bright with the saintliness of Marianne…and of Howard, and of Peggy, and of Charles, and of Fran, and so many more. Thanks be to God for all the saints!