Ordinary Saints

All Saints Day 2018

The optimists among us would like to believe there is good in everyone, but let’s be honest – not everyone exhibits the kind of extraordinary holiness and virtue we associate with saints. Not everyone is fearless enough to stand up to those in power or walk among lepers or stand in solidarity with the oppressed.

After someone dies they are often recast in more saintly terms. I always wonder if people said or thought those same kind words that are spoken in eulogies while the person was alive. I know that my own father – a remarkable person in so many ways, but hardly a saint – acquired an aura of saintliness within the family after his death. I would give almost anything to be able to go back in time and express a greater appreciation of him while he was living, but his goodness was of the ordinary kind that isn’t seen without the perspective of time. It was a goodness that provided a safe and loving home, and stayed up late to help with math homework, and drove 500 miles to be with me a month before dying of lung cancer because I was going through a rough patch in my life.


I could not have been more surprised this past summer when I saw what – or rather, who – stood just above the West Front doors of Westminster Abbey. There, modern day saints are honored in arguably one of the most prominent places in the world. In the very center – Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero (both depicted with children, interestingly). Today, All Saints Day, is their day. A feast day for those exceptional people who have walked among us, whose lives and works changed the world. These were people who helped us see more clearly that God dwells among us and whose faith led them into danger, defiance, and sacrifice.

All Souls Day is tomorrow, November 2, and that is when we have the special intention of remembering those we loved, those ordinary people who happened to be extraordinary to us. No statues, but a liturgical acknowledgement that everyone is important to God and will be welcomed into everlasting life.  All souls, saint or not.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.  (Mary Elizabeth Frye – 1932)

With a Celtic sensibility, these oft-quoted words help us find comfort in ordinary things as we mourn those we cannot see, but who we still long to feel in our lives. Real saints change the world. Ordinary saints change one heart at a time. We need more of both.


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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much for which we can be grateful.


Taize: A Community of Prayer

A service of music and prayers in the style of Taizé, this Sunday, November 5 at
6:30 pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Norwood Parish.

Born out of wartime suffering in 1940, a Reformed Protestant from Switzerland, Brother Roger, founded a small community of men committed to a life of service and prayer among the poverty and fear of occupied France.  He hoped the monks of this community would become “signs of the presence of Christ” and “bearers of joy.” In later years Catholics and Anglicans joined the Reformed members, and Taizé now lives into Brother Roger’s ecumenical vision in their home in the Burgundy region of France, and in their satellite communities around the world.

Since the mid-1960’s the community of Taizé (pronounced teh-ZAY) has become a pilgrimage site for mostly young people, with nearly 100,000 visitors each year now.  The music of Taizé sprang from a desire to welcome these pilgrims during worship with a simple form of chanted prayer which could reach across the many languages and religions represented by the pilgrims. Simple phrases and harmonies, repeated, sometimes in canon, became another way to pray and connect with God.

As with chanting in any spiritual tradition, the sound of the human voice sends vibrations through the body, permeating all of our cells, becoming a practice which calms the mind and frees us to listen more closely for God’s voice. The chants can be sung in many languages, but are often set with words in Latin.  As a language which belongs to no one, Latin can be a language which is available to everyone. Simply knowing that the words are holy, that they often come from the psalms or recall the life and works of Jesus, can be enough sometimes. Singing in Latin can take our focus off the text, allowing our voice to be more fully in communion with God’s voice.

In the context of an evening service which is, in part, a commemoration of All Saints and All Souls, singing the contemplative chants of Taizé can sometimes take us to a  place of darkness and grief. I hope you will allow the darkness of an evening service to create a feeling of being cocooned by God’s love. Like the healing power of sleep, change, growth, and beauty can emerge from the darkness of a cocoon. And perhaps there will be a moment during the singing when someone finds that they are drawn from their cocoon, into the radiant light of God’s healing touch.

Find five minutes, if you can, to watch this video of photos and music from the Taizé community.  Sit quietly, breathe, be present with God.

Taize-Let nothing disturb you