By Sylvia Maddox
WHO GOES WITH YOU? These words were written on a poster above the door of a local ministry for the homeless. Around the doorway were pictures of Dorothy Day, St. Vincent de Paul, and others who inspired the workers in their mission. We are accustomed to seeing family portraits on stairwells, pictures of ministers in church hallways, and board members in the university foyers. We pass by these pictures as we pass by the names of saints, not mindful of how we are connected.
The question of Who Goes With You invoked something much more personal and invited me into a reflection of the deeper mystery of the communion of saints. If all of us stopped for a moment and prayerfully recalled those who have shaped our spiritual journeys, we might be surprised at the familiar faces that would appear. A young mother in a busy life with three children might remember that she had been consoled by a solitary mystic, Julian of Norwich. A structured Sunday school teacher might realize his newly-found freedom was a gift of St. Francis. A minister going in all directions might see how the Rule of St. Benedict had given balance to his life.
Nowhere is this better understood than in the Celtic understanding of the “Cloud of Witnesses.” Along with the mystery of our communion with those who have gone before us, there is also a continual intimacy. Rather than seeing the saints as distant relatives, we are invited to see them as kinfolks in a kindly circle of belonging. In the daily parts of Celtic life, there was often a nod and a smile knowing the loved one was near; knowing the spiritual guide would be beside them in the twists and turnings of the journey. Even those who lived in isolated parts of the country celebrated a sense of community. Life itself was seen as keeping company in a House of Saints.
St. Patrick’s Breastplate, a prayer of protection and presence, turns the question of Who Goes With You into an affirmation. One could call out to Patrick, “Who goes with you?” And he would answer with a long list of people of faith. His words, “I arise today with . . .” emphasize his desire and his confidence of accompaniment.
To make accompaniment personal is to realize, like Patrick, when we are journeying alone, that we are not alone. This realization came to me at a time of transition in my life when the journey seemed solitary. I began to truly wonder who goes with me. Reaching for the Psalms, I began to smile imagining David playing on the harp. I reached for the hymnal and smiled again, lifted up by the hymns of Charles Wesley, and joining him was my grandfather leading singing at the country church. All around, St. Teresa was humming her bookmark prayer: “Let nothing disturb you.” All these accompanying voices expressed the beautiful ways the Spirit echoes Jesus’ words: “I am with you always.”
Sylvia Maddox is a member of Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org