November is sandwiched between the two holidays of All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving. Ironically, for the Christian at least, All Saints’ Day is eclipsed in our culture by Halloween (as if Christmas Eve were more important than Christmas Day) and Thanksgiving is a holiday first created not by the church calendar but by our government. We must do the best we can!
I have been reflecting this month on the relationship between these two November celebrations. All Saints’ Day reminds Apostles’ Creed Christians of our belief in the “Community of Saints.” In part, this is about remembering those who have gone before: those great heroes of the faith (Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis, Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Calvin, Julian of Norwich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and your favorites) and the heroes of our own faith journeys (grandmothers, teachers, friends) without whom we would not be where we are today.
But just as important it is about reminding us of the would-be and could-be “saints” among whom we live each day of the week – individuals made in the image of God, individuals for whom Christ died, individuals whom God has brought into our paths to accomplish his purposes in our lives and in theirs. It is this notion that C. S. Lewis is getting at in his essay “The Weight of Glory”:
“It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. . . All day long we, are in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these [eternal] destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. . .”
It is this notion that George MacDonald is calling attention to in his poem “Longing”:
“O God of mountains, stars, and boundless spaces,
O God of freedom and of joyous hearts,
When thy face looketh forth from all men’s faces,
There will be room enough in crowded marts!
Brood thou around me, and the noise is o’er,
Thy universe my closet with shut door.” [Italics mine]
Finally, it is this notion that Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us of in his poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”: “For Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his, To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
November is one of the months that can easily be lost on the way to Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas. I want to pay more attention this month to the “saints” (i.e. people God is calling to set apart for His plans and purposes) who come across my path – some of them day after day at home and work, some of them in one-of-a-kind encounters. (The tragic events in our country in recent days remind us that we have only now – only today for certain – to practice this attention.) If I am granted the time, I want to prepare myself for Thanksgiving by practicing gratitude for these people throughout November. If I can do this, I suspect I will arrive more calmly at the beginning of Advent – and more ready to prepare for the celebration of His coming at Christmas that is already not far away.
Grace and peace to you today,
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976