We Can Learn from the Saints
on the lessons taught by the heroes of faith
& Lowell Grisham
1st, in the Christian calendar, is the Feast of All Saints; it's
when Christians remember all who have gone before us in space and
time. It's a time for remembering the great-grandparents and the
aunts and uncles and cousins in faith. We've been around long enough
now that the list is a long one.
misunderstand saints; they think of them as being nice people, good
people, people who behave well and don't make mistakes. But saints
aren't like that. Saints can be crabby, cranky, cantankerous, bitter,
ill-informed, misogynist (lots in that category!), racist, opinionated
(even more in that category!)— I could go on. Saints are extremely
human, and they are products of their cultures and times.
that I'm using the present tense, not the past one. Saints
aren't just the people officially sainted by the Roman Catholic
Church; they are all believers, all who have chosen to
follow the Way of the Christ, however imperfectly.
Not one of us fails to charge off the path and into the bramble
bushes, sometimes quite frequently. Not one of us fails to get it
wrong at least once a week and probably much more often than that.
It was a saint who invented that lovely prayer:
today I have not been nasty or rude;
I have not given or taken offense;
I have not done wrong;
I have fulfilled your will.
Now, God, please be with me,
because in a minute or so
I'm going to have to get out of bed.
saints have shown us that there is the possibility of living Godwardly
in this life, however imperfectly we do it. Saints are simply people
who have chosen to point their lives in what they believe is God's
direction, and there are enough lives pointed in the same direction
that it begins to look like a long procession of people, all walking
the same path, keeping each other company. That's what we celebrate
on All Saints' Day.
When I was a child our librarians encouraged
us to read biographies that had been written especially for children.
There was always special attention paid to the childhood or the
youth of the biographical subject. It was important to see the struggles
and challenges that the person had to overcome, even as a youth.
And the character values that would later become evident in their
adult leadership were usually formed and illustrated in incidents
when the person was just about my age.
Those were good books. They inspired at an unconscious level. They
broadened our horizons. We could see that some people had more difficult
childhoods than we did. We could see that patterns of virtue could
begin early. We could be like them. They weren't so different from
us. Our lives weren't so tough that we couldn't adopt a bit of their
courage and goodness.
I remember a joke that seems to have its roots in this reading tradition.
A father looks at his lazy child, who hasn't done his homework,
and says, "When he was your age, Abraham Lincoln was chopping
wood, lighting the fire, doing his homework by firelight and walking
miles through the snow to school." The kid replies, "When
he was your age, Abraham Lincoln was President."
The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the courage and example of those
heroes who have gone before us. There are gallant
stories of hard work and perseverance. There are stories of those
who faced suffering and death with courage and hope. But they are
more than memories, says the author of Hebrews. They are our witnesses.
since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let
us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before
Maybe you know of some stories about the remembered or sensed presence
of someone now dead who seemed to bring courage or hope to someone
alive. Maybe there are some who inspired you and whom you would
not want to disappoint. Although they may be far away or no longer
alive, you sense an enduring tie of obligation to them. Maybe there
are stories of those who have been models of inspiration to you.
You would like to be like them.
can be like them. But more than that, they can also help us. Just
as Elijah gave a portion of his spirit to his successor Elisha,
so these "witnesses" can still give a portion of their
spirit to us who now run our own race.
invites us to do just that, "looking to Jesus the pioneer and
perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set
before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken
his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."
Who are some of your heroes? Who has been inspirational for you?
Let them be your supporting witnesses. Let them help you live with
©2006 Molly Wolf and Lowell Grisham