Somedays, more than others, it's confusing to be a Southern Bapto-Anglican with a sprinkle of philo-Catholicism, and in general being a healthy and high-functioning eccentric. All Saints Day happens to be one of those days.
As a Southern Baptist, I don't recall hearing much about it in church. Perhaps at home, where my parents were more likely to talk about things that weren't always akin to what Southern Baptists held to be true. (Though I learned later in life, and indeed keep learning, that a lot of what I thought "we" believed had a whole lot more to do with people misinterpreting things and becoming lazy theologically than what a true Southern Baptist faith was supposed to look like. Good, gracious, and very patient parents have helped me understand that, but that's another blog for another day.)
As an Anglican, or as an Episcopalian, depending not on politics (I'm Anglican in that regard) but much more on where is best for me to receive the Eucharist, given my geographic proximity to a limited number of non-Baptist churches, it certainly takes our focus.
This year, I feel much more aware of it than last. I've been identifying myself as a Bapto-Anglican for just over a year now. (My first Sunday was the Eucharistic observance of the Feast of St. Francis and the blessing of the animals, but my first Eucharist, in which I took and was not only blessed, came several weeks later.) Since that time, I have added to my study of the Scripture, the saints, and the writings of the Church a special attention to the liturgy found in the Book of Common Prayer, to the words of the Holy Rite I, and to the specific theological contentions each line makes.
Now, I'm no St. Thomas Aquinas, so these are less logical, systematic processes and much more emotional (a word I use here seriously, likening it to the health of my soul) and perhaps at their very best could be termed as something mystical. There's a lot of prayer involved -- and not that Aquinas did not pray, not at all, only that I do not have the mind he had to syllogistically work out each point, some of it just simply is -- and a great deal of reflection. I have been known to corner a priest from time to time, to write to a sister in a convent, to spend a lunch in deliberation with a pastor. These have been the formative moments for me, the journey in which the liturgical ebb and flow of the Christian year takes on a vivid and rich substance, a meaning to which my life can be set, as if following along with my own melody to a greater harmony to which it stretches, changes, and ultimately is dissolved into the greater Song. I am at once unique and at the same time caught up in something so much more.
This is nonetheless true on All Saints Day. Thinking over it this morning, the prayerful petition from the Holy Rite I was fresh on my mind:
"And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear, beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service; and to grant us grace so to follow the good examples of all thy saints, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom."
Goodness, what's a good Baptist supposed to do with that? It sounds terribly Catholic. Well, maybe it is in some ways, but this good Baptist -- or perhaps not so good, which I can live with -- has seen something beautiful to be had within it. This idea of "continual growth" is something of a wonder and hopeful delight for me. My understanding of it is very simple, perhaps too much so, but I see it as thus:
In Heaven, at least as Heaven is now and not as it shall be when He makes all things new, we experience and see God as He is, in His essence. However, we have not become infinite, we are not ourselves God. Yet, seeing Him, we see Infinity, and somehow we know the Infinite. Confusing? Oh so very much, but perhaps it works out as thus: we pray for the saints, which are all people in Heaven, those already in the literal presence of God, to experience continual growth. For when you gaze into Infinity, there is infinity to see. In Heaven, we shall be constantly discovering new wonders of God that were not first apparent. We will still be growing, still be delighting, still be fascinated by Him not the least of which will be due to constantly being surprised by His goodness in whatever way we experience it.
I'm a fan of this, for my greatest hope when it comes to Heaven is that God and I can take a walk together and I can ask Him questions about the creation. Very few of them begin with "Why . . ." Many of them start with, "How . . ."
I'll live and be delighted if this is not the case. It is Paradise after all. Nonetheless, it's a picture I am fond of, a picture that I am fond of thinking the saints since-departed are participating in right now. A growing conversation, a oneness with the One, where they are so much more themselves and yet His all at once. Truly saints, each and every one.
So on this All Saints Day, I offer up prayers for peace and strength for all those saints around the world today; I offer up prayers of thanksgiving for those whom God has already called home and the good work that they have done within the world to bring me to this place; and, I offer up prayers for their continual growth and understanding of Him.
Hm . . . I don't have a good Baptist answer for the last one, perhaps not even a good Anglican one, but as I understand and can make sense of it, though the saints are departed this life and therefore in Him, they are still journeying in Him, so I pray for all of them. Not a particular saint, but for all of them, as I would pray for the whole of the Church.
I'm still fuzzy on this, I know.
Different saints have meant different things to me at times in my life. There was a time when Catherine of Siena was particularly profound. Then there was Bonaventure and even recently Aquinas. Francis has been particularly formative to me for a long time. Why? Their writings express a heart for Christ that challenges me. I want to understand Him as they did. So I also want them to increase ever in understanding even as they are in His midst. Hence, prayers offered for all the saints.
I'm just not OK with saying that it works the opposite direction.
Huh, maybe it's a lot more confusing on some days than I first realized. I need to find a priest to corner.