I’m a little late posting for All Saints’ Day, but we Baptists are not so swift on those liturgical holidays, anyway.
That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
Truth be told, I never have given much thought to All Saints’ Day, other than addressing thorny problems like how to keep my mom’s bunched up nylons attached to the sides of my head in an effort to look like Princess Leah on Halloween.
But I digress.
I started thinking a little more about All Saints’ Day one year when the pastor preached a sermon on the beautiful passage from the beginning of Hebrews chapter 12. Our church then had a balcony up above the main sanctuary; it was always empty, as is the case with many formerly grand and highly-attended-in-the-1950s churches. That day as the pastor preached he kept pointing to the balcony, calling the names of people in our community of faith who had died in the few years preceding that Sunday.
It was a little spooky, I won’t lie . . . imagining those folks there with us. But the pastor’s images were powerful because when he called those names I could picture faces; I could remember conversations . . . his calling their names seemed to suddenly bring All Saints’ Day to life.
I know, of course, that the process of becoming a “real” saint is quite involved, and, anyway, we Baptists don’t go in for all of that. But that Sunday in church gave me a new appreciation for All Saints’ Day . . . and permission to identify and celebrate the “saints” in my own life.
There are many. Many individuals who have taken me by the hand, helped me find my way, cheered me on, redirected my steps, helped me see beyond what was right in front of me. They are saints.
When I was little we lived in Hawaii–a long way away, all the way across the ocean from Grandma, who lived in Chicago. It wasn’t that easy to hop on a plane back then but she and Grandpa did it, at least once a year. I can still remember the feeling of utter anticipation upon leaving for school and knowing she’d be waiting, just off the plane, when I got home. I even remember her bringing me gifts (who carts a Raggedy Ann sleeping bag on a plane from Chicago??!?).
Then there were the summers I got to go to Grandma’s house in Chicago. I am the eldest of 5 kids, so I often had responsibilities to care for my younger siblings and not too much attention thrown my way.
Summers with Grandma it was all different.
I heard story after story about the delight she felt when her first grandchild (me!) was born; how special I was to her; stories about my babyhood that sort of got lost in the mix at home. Grandma always made me feel absolutely, positively special and loved.
If that isn’t enough to make her a saint to me, I don’t know what is.
But there’s more.
Grandma realized early on that there was something about me that was true about her, too . . . that we both loved to read and we loved history. Because she recognized this in me, Grandma invented “reading campaigns” during our visits, where I would “get” to select a topics–say, the Civil War–and read as many books on the topic as I could during my visit.
Later, when I was in college and working on a Master’s degree in church history, Grandma and I would always have something to talk about . . . and when I enthused about a class, while everyone else’s eyes would sort of glaze over, I’d see hers sparkle and know she knew . . . she knew how excited I was. And that sparkle in her eyes communicated loud and clear a message that kept me going: she was proud of me.
She probably doesn’t know . . . that little kernel of confidence was sometimes the only thing, the only thing that gave me the courage to take the next step in a world and a profession that didn’t always make things easy for me.
Thanks, Gram, for being a saint to me. I hope you always know you’re at the top of my list.