“Where were you when . . .” The question names the defining moments of our lives. Where were you on 9/11? Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Where were you when President Kennedy was killed, 50 years ago last month? My children were not yet born; the assassination of President Kennedy they know only from textbooks. But I know exactly where I was – overseas, the young bride of an Air Force enlisted man stationed in a foreign country. In that isolated place we had no telephone, no television, not even a radio. The news of the assassination – I should say partial news, for the information came spottily and unverified – was relayed by someone who had heard from someone, who had heard from someone else . . . it was scary times. Continue reading
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Marjorie George, editor
The voices of Advent – Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Isaiah, all the way back to Abraham and the prophets – call us to hope. Beginning Monday, Dec 2, and continuing for the next four weeks, we will engage with those voices. We invite you to join us. If you received this message, you are already subscribed to ReflectionsOnline and will receive these reflections automatically.
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- Marjorie George, editor.
The Fall/Winter issue of Reflections magazine focuses on “Old Friends: What we can still learn from the saints.” Read the issue online here. Below, the Rev. Dr. Jane Patterson reflects on a woman called to be a saint on an ordinary day last August.
by The Rev. Jane L. Patterson, Ph.D.
If I thumb the pages of the worn red leather Bible of my childhood, with my name imprinted in gold on the front, out will fall a cascade of saints’ cards. My family attended what I later learned was a “high church” Episcopal parish in Coconut Grove, Florida. Saints and their colorful stories were a part of the imaginative fabric of my earliest years. Cecelia and Agnes, Teresa and Clare: their bravery and devotion blended with that of the Little Match Girl, Thumbelina, and Donkey Skin in a confusing but inspiring mix. But over time my choice of saints as guides has come to focus on ordinary people who have taken seriously the call to holiness that falls upon all disciples of Jesus. When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he didn’t single out some people for recognition as “saints,” but affirmed that all of them were “called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2), called to be God’s holy ones.
An ordinary saint who made the headlines last August was Antoinette Tuff, the bookkeeper at Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, GA. She happened to be substituting in the front office of the elementary school for a secretary who was out sick that day. This is where she was when a shooter, who had 500 rounds of ammunition for his AK47, showed up to make a fiery end to his own despair. She made a 911 call that took 24 minutes and later went “viral” on the internet. All 24 minutes of her conversation with the shooter can be heard. In her case, a 911 call intersected with her call to be holy, to be as Christ in the most terrifying half-hour of her life.
What is remarkable isn’t just Antoinette’s prodigious courage (though that is surely impressive), but her compassion, and how she used everything she had to reach the distraught and dangerous man, Michael Hill.
The first thing you hear on the call are gunshots, outside the office. Tuff quickly becomes the unlikely mediator between Hill and the police outside, everyone but Tuff armed to the teeth.
Then you begin to hear Tuff speaking with the shooter, repeating questions from the 911 operator and then relaying his answers:
“He said tell them to back off.”
“He said he doesn’t care, he’s got nothing to live for.”
“He says he’s not mentally stable.”
“He says he’s on probation. He knows he’s going to be put away for a long time.”
Minutes tick by, and Tuff begins to engage Hill in conversation:
“It’s all gonna be well.”
“We’re not gonna hate you.”
“I’ll sit right here.”
When she says this last sentence, “I’ll sit right here,” I think of so many stories of Jesus – with the Gerasene man, the woman who touches the hem of his garment, Bartimaeus, the Samaritan woman – all of the people he “sat right there” with, people whom others were content to let be in their misery or loneliness. Jesus sat right there with them, and in that simple sitting and listening God’s power entered the situation.
“It’s alright, baby.”
“I just want you to know that I love you, and I’m proud of you. It’s a good thing that you’re just givin’ up, and don’t worry about it.”
“We all go through somethin’ in life.”
Hill says he just wants to end it all, to kill himself or be killed. At this moment, like the crucified Christ entering hell on Holy Saturday, Tuff offers up her own cross as a force for healing to this desperate man:
“I thought the same thing. You know I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, and look at me now – I’m still workin’ and everything’s okay.”
Tuff offers Hill her own experience of cross and resurrection, and he gives in. When he allows himself to be escorted away by the police, Tuff begins shaking and sobbing. The enormity of what has just happened washes over her.
God calls us in the most ordinary of places, perhaps in the reception area of a school on a hot day in late August. God calls us to fit our feet into the footsteps of our Lord Jesus, to tune our ears to his compassion, to pick up our part of the cross. And when we do, we find that those steps are still warm from the feet of the saints, that words of compassion have been lent to us by our forebears (“It’s alright, baby”), that the cross of Christ is worn smooth by having been carried by generations of saints before us.
“We all go through somethin’ in life.”
“It’s all gonna be well.”
“We’re not gonna hate you.”
“I’ll sit right here.”
The Rev. Dr. Jane Patterson is co-director at TheWork+Shop in San Antonio TX and teaches at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin TX.
For more articles from the Fall/Winter issue of Reflections magazine, click here.
Each year, the Church celebrates All Saints’ Day on November 1 to bring to mind the Communion of Saints of which we are all a part, that communion that the Book of Common Prayer calls “the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise (pg 862).
Below, the Rt. Rev. David Reed reflects on All Those Saints.
This article is from the Fall/Winter 2013 edition of Reflections magazine with the title “What We Can (still) Learn from the Saints.” To read the entire magazine or individual articles from the issue, plus more resources on the saints, click here
All Those Saints
by the Rt. Rev. David Reed
The problem with naming names around All Saints’ Day, as many of our churches do, is that once you start, you might not be able to stop. So, for example, think of John, one of the first four disciples, brother of James, one of the “sons of thunder,” author of the Gospel that bears his name. But if you do that, crowding right into your mind with him are likely to be the other three Evangelists: Matthew, Mark and Luke; and then, you almost have to think of the 12 disciples (even if you can’t name them).
Or maybe when you think of St. John, what comes to mind is one of our St. John’s churches in New Braunfels, McAllen, and Sonora. Or maybe the name brings to mind some dearly departed John you knew ― I think of John Jay of St. Francis, Victoria, and Johnny Rayburn, caretaker of the old Bishop Elliott Conference Center in Rockport.
Or maybe you think of someone who is presently part of your life and journey with Christ. If we start naming saints ― the quick and the dead ― we could be at it till next Tuesday.
And all of those ways of thinking about the saints of God ― living, dead, ancient, modern, world-famous, locally known, great and small ― fit well within New Testament teaching and the tradition of the Church. The way most Episcopalians celebrate All Saints’ Day now is actually a commingling of All Saints’ (November 1) and All Souls’ Day or the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed (November 2), better known in these parts as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
All Saints’ Day has been observed since the third century and was a feast celebrating the big-name, capital-S saints ― the ones who get their own day on the Church’s calendar and who get their pictures in stained-glass windows. All Souls’ originally was to remember those countless faithful who build churches and worship in them and serve the Lord from them. All Souls’ would draw us to look not at the stained-glass windows but at the little brass plaques and at church cemeteries and columbaria. The combining of the two feasts in our day has given us a fuller sense of the New Testament understanding of sainthood.
As St. Paul looks at it, the saints are everyone who’s been baptized, the entire membership of the Christian community. According to the witness of his epistles, you don’t have to have a stained-glass face to be in that number, when the saints go marching in. You don’t have to get eaten by a lion, or burned at the stake, or have taught Sunday School for 50 years. You don’t even have to be dead. Most of Paul’s letters are addressed “to the saints” of a particular place, and he is writing to the whole community of Christians ― the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. He is no more hesitant to call them all saints in Christ Jesus than he is to call them out for their sinful, divisive, un-Christlike behavior.
To be a saint, you just have to be baptized. Because sainthood, finally, isn’t something we figure out, or earn. It is what God intends for us, is making of us, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. An oversimplified summary of St. Paul’s ethical teaching is, “Become what you are baptized to be.” Now, God is fully aware of what a mixed-bag he’s chosen to redeem, and he knows how un-saintly we can behave, and how we try to squirm away from such labels as “saints” and “sanctified” and “holy.” But still he sees us not only as we are, but as we shall be, and he loves us with the same love with which he loves Jesus. And what we shall become is what we are: ― those whose lives are hidden with God in Christ, those who have immigrated to the Kingdom of heaven.
I grew up in an area heavily populated by saints. Ireland’s got nothing on el monte of South Texas. I don’t mean that la gente of the Rio Grande Valley are any more or less virtuous and pious than people in other places, but that an abiding awareness of los santos, and appeals to them, were and are part of the fabric of the culture in which I was raised (though less obviously on my Protestant Episcopal Sunday mornings).
As a child, I was taught about the big saints and their examples of moral courage and heroic faith. I learned to sing that the “saints of God are just folk like me,” and though the words to that children’s hymn are quaintly British (meeting saints at tea is more poetic than meeting them at Luby’s or Starbucks), it remains Gospel truth for all of us. It reminds us of what God intends for us: that we be made into saints.
It seems to me to be no great leap from that childhood awareness of saints to our regular experience at the Eucharist, where we join our voices with “Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven,” and sing like kids singing to their parents who delight in them. “All the company of heaven” means church is pretty crowded ― that it’s not only the local and familiar people we gather with; it’s the 12 apostles, Paul and Barnabas, la Virgen Maria and Queen Margaret of Scotland, Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente, Mother Teresa and my mom and my grandmothers, my friends who died too young, and the ancient stranger I visited in the nursing home.
And it’s no great leap from our worship to the places where we work and live and love, finding ourselves “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), living in a world heavily populated by saints. They crowd round the altar, these saints of God, and they crowd into our lives, gathering with the likes of you and me and . . .
Well, like I said, if I started naming names, we’d be here till next Tuesday. “For the saints of God are just folk like me. And I mean, God helping, to be one, too.”
The Rt. Rev. David Reed is bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.
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.
Hymn #293, The Hymnal 1982
by Marjorie George
It was to be a weekend of silence. Our class of 12 people, all enrolled in the spiritual formation program at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, was taking a road trip to Lebh Shomea, a retreat center just south of Kingsville, Texas.
Lebh Shomea is a place dedicated to silence in the tradition of the desert mothers and fathers – an invitation to withdraw into the wilderness, clear of life’s clutter, to listen for God.
The desert mothers and fathers lived the simplest of lives – often taking only a small piece of bread and a little water for their single daily meal and spending perhaps all night on their knees in prayer. Each lived a solitary existence in hermitages mostly in the Egyptian and Palestinian deserts.
Our purpose for the Lebh Shomea weekend was to try to capture just a fragment of that ascetical life. Though we went as community, we were to remain silent from Friday afternoon’s arrival through Sunday morning worship.
Even so, said our professor, we would be living in community — communal silence, someone named it later. Each of us was to stay the weekend in individual hermitages, little brick cottages that reminded me of the third little pig’s brick house the big bad wolf could not blow down no matter how much he huffed and puffed.
I was not ar all sure about this. But whatever will I DO with all that time? I thought. How will I fill all those hours? To these questions, the professor only smiled.
By early Friday evening, I decided I was not called to the desert life. I felt alone, cut off from my classmates and from conversation I would liked to have been having with them. Restlessness ― the desert mothers and father called it acedia ― settled over me.
By late Friday night, I determined that I would just stay awake until God spoke to me.
Night at Lebh Shomea is unlike night at any other place. It is the blackest of dark and most silent of silence, gently interrupted only by the silhouette of an occasional deer or peacock moving graciously across the landscape. One actually can hear the wind in the trees in a Lebh Shomea night.
As I gazed through my open window into this desolation I began to notice small points of light scattered here and there – one just on the other side of the gravel path that led to my hut, another farther down the path, and another on the fringe of the compound. Ah, I realized, they were the lights from the windows of my classmates’ huts, each hut a single little beacon. Others were at home, each no doubt praying about, thinking about, reflecting upon whatever it was that God had given them to pray about, think about, reflect upon. I was not alone. We were a community being held together by that dark silence.
I think that is how it is with the saints. They are single points of light in the dark, visible only when we take ourselves apart for a while and allow ourselves to recognize and join that community. That light over there, that is Ignatius bent over his writing desk, crafting his spiritual exercises. And over there is Dietrich Bonheoffer, wrestling with a Christian response to evil and finally deciding to join the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Farther beyond is Jonathan Myrick Daniels, jumping in front of a young black girl in Alabama in 1965 and literally taking the bullet for her.
Sometimes our lives seemed immersed in darkness, and we feel all alone with no one to talk to. But St. John reminds us that the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not put it out” (John 1:5).
And, really, we are all part of the community of saints, with our own little window lights struggling to shine brightly and bravely through the darkness. We are enabled by those saints who still speak to us when we are willing to put down the fussiness of life and tune out the noise of the world and take time to enter that blessed community.
Shh. Listen. Do you hear them?
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.
This article is from the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Reflections magazine that is titled “Old Friends: What We Can (still) Learn from the Saints.
To read the entire issue, or individual articles in the issue, click here.