I don’t really celebrate Halloween; but I wanted to dress up this year, so I did. When a friend invited me to attend the Vigil of All Saints at the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia, I wanted to go; so I went, although that meant canceling a previous commitment.
I’m so glad I went to the vigil. After getting over my initial surprise about how young the nuns were (most looked my age or younger) and over the newness of the liturgy, I settled into the service and began to listen to what was being spoken and sung. Two things really struck me. One was the priest’s homily, in which he talked about only one thing being needed in our lives—realizing and accepting that God gave his son for us and responding in love. The other thing that struck me was the sisters’ chanting of the litany of the saints, which for me has shed new light on the meaning of Hebrews 12:1.
Today is All Saints’ Day, and I tend to think of this holy day in three ways—remembering the saints of old, acknowledging the everyday saints of today, and remembering my friends and family members who have died. I never really think of the saints (whether extraordinary or ordinary) who have died as being living saints, but I find it interesting that the writer of Hebrews uses the present tense: “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1a, NRSV). The saints who have gone before us are a living and breathing cloud of witnesses.
As I continue to think about this scripture, I’m challenged to think about my identity. Over the past few months, I have been struggling consciously and subconsciously about my identity. In two weeks, I will be leaving my job at The Upper Room. I will no longer be able to refer to myself as an editor. I fought hard not to tie up my identity with my line of work, but I did. That’s what we do as Americans. But the other night, when a friend was helping me sort out my clothes, I realized that I had also tied up my identity in my clothes, my shoes, my books, and all manner of stuff. As I’m scaling down my material possessions, stripping down to the bare necessities, I believe God is also stripping down the trappings of my soul, the clutter of my heart.
Who am I, truly? Beyond all the clutter, trappings, and labels, I think I would find God’s beloved daughter and a member of this great cloud of witnesses of ordinary and extraordinary saints. As the hymn goes, “I sing the song of the saints of God . . . and I mean to be one too.”
*This post is dedicated to two friends and two saints in my life, Stuart and Gina.