Singing of The Saints of God
By Will Oxford
No matter how hard I try, it seems like I’m always surrounded by Saints. I live in Saint Hilda’s House, I work at a church called St. Paul and St. James, the football team in New Orleans absolutely decimated my hometown Carolina Panthers last week, and I’m pretty sure that I encounter some saints in my day to day life. With All Saints day still fresh in my mind, this got me wondering: what (or who) is a saint? How do we define sainthood, both inside and outside the walls of the church? Is it as easy as that hymn we all know, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” tells us?
“I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.”
In my own mind, I usually tend to place saints into three different categories, Historical Saints, Modern Day Saints, and Anonymous Saints. We all know who the Historical Saints are. They're the ones that get schools and churches named after them; the ones with feast days, special collects, and their own entry in Holy Women, Holy Men. These accolades are well deserved, of course. The biggest question that I have when encountering these Historical saints is, how do they relate to my life today? Women and men like Hilda of Whitby, and the Twelve Apostles of Christ are figures that built the foundation of our faith. Their calling was to serve and evangelize the ministry of Christ throughout the world, and we still use them examples of how our Christian life should be lived.
“They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right for Jesus' sake
The whole of their good lives long.”
At St. PJ’s, as it is affectionately known, there is a mural in the undercroft entitled “The Dancing Saints.” In this mural there are a combination of both Historical Saints and Modern Day ones. Alongside the likenesses of its namesake, the mural at PJ’s includes some people one might not think of when the term Saint comes up. Next to Saint Paul , Joan of Arc, and Absalom Jones are the likes of John Coltrane, Mary Lou Williams, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, and Warren Kimbro, a former member of the Black Panther Party in New Haven, who after serving time in prison for murder, dedicated his life to making sure the youth of New Haven did not repeat his mistakes. I personally think it is a lot easier to view some of these people as Saints than the ones we grew up hearing about in Sunday school. Because they lived and did their work in the modern day, because we know much more about their personal lives, it is easier for us to put ourselves in their shoes. We can see that these wonderful men and women, who might not necessarily have been Christian, are able to overcome some of the hardest situations imaginable, and dedicate their lives to helping others.
“They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus' will.”
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, there are the innumerable Anonymous Saints who work in our daily lives and impact us in so many ways. In theologian Albert Schweitzer‘s take on Saints, he states: “In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” It is hard to comprehend the number of people throughout our life who help us rekindle our flame, many of whom without any type of recognition. Of the countless mentors, friends, and family members who help to shape us into the people we become, how many will be written into history books? I’d wager that the number is quite low. Even so, I’ll always remember the teachers who saw my true potential and pushed me to work harder than I ever thought possible, the friends who appreciated me for who I truly was, and the family members who guided me through some of life’s most difficult obstacles.
“You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.”