I’ve been thinking about “saints” a great deal this week, and saints have been finding me. Although I only get to the West Coast a few times a year, my great joy is worshipping surrounded by the dancing saints of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. I was talking about St. Gregory’s recently with some of the volunteers at my field education parish with whom I was cooking and serving lunch for those in need of a home-cooked, sustaining meal. Whenever we feed those who hunger, we ourselves are fed. That kind of deep, soul nourishment happens at St. Gregory’s, and at my home parish food pantry, and at my field ed parish’s feeding ministry and so many other settings where we feed with love and abundance. I never, ever leave ministries like this without having been nourished deeply.
I am realizing that the vastness of my understanding of the “Communion of Saints” has been forever altered by my experiences with feeding and being fed. It is visceral at St. Gregory of Nyssa. Their worship space is designed for liturgy and feeding…by that, I mean both ecclesial and literal translations of the word. The same altar around which people gather for Holy Eucharist on Sunday, people gather and glean bountiful amounts of produce and groceries at food pantry on Fridays. I’ve been fed (literally and sacramentally) in both spaces, with dancing saints all around me. It is the saints on earth and the saints above joined together that help me feel my place among the ordinary extraordinary, fed by the depth of connection among us all. This connection with the saints is not about our goodness, but our openness to the working of Divine Presence through us, exactly as we are.
The presence of saints in our lives is visceral in other places and spaces, too. I was enthralled earlier this week at an exhibit of Kehinde Wiley’s artwork at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. In the exhibition, he has reappropriated historical (predominantly European) art with portraits of African American men and women living into the richness of their own personhood. I kept walking through the exhibit, seeing more and more depth and nuance of people’s true selves reflecting archetypical strengths time after time, painting after painting. These works of art evoke a depth of expression beyond the subject and situation. Not surprisingly, his collection of “saints and icons” was most inspiring for me. Some stained glass works, some iconography, other paintings. All incredible. Just a quick peek at a few of these amazing images in Wiley’s New Republic:
I hold all these images of saints as a part of my journey: traditional, contemporary, sacred art, modern interpretation. I tire of hearing news stories that contain verbiage like, “he was no saint…” What if, instead of judging worthiness, we actually opened to seeing the saints reflected in each other? We hold this false idea of “being a saint” as self-determining a level of human perfection, rather than as a conduit for divine love and mercy to flow through and dance among us. When we are emptied to the possibility of divine purpose flowing through our veins and connecting us with each other, we are like those dancing saints where art, music, the poetry of divine mercy and justice flow like water.
I am blessed to be in the presence of saints in this life, connecting me with the Source of all that is life giving. I am resting, this night, in the small points of light each encounter brings to my path.