Saturday, February 11, 2006

Concerning Saints
I've been thinking about Saints lately. Maybe it's the logical conclusion of a season dominated by Saint Nick and the upcoming ones with Saint Valentine, Saint Patrick and Saint Easter Bunny.

Seems to me that with the whole, "Hey, we're all 'saints'," that came with the Reformation, and which permeates Evangelicaldom, we (speaking as an evangelical) lost a bit of spiritual tutelage. Perhaps what's gotten us into trouble is the combination of the correct Reformation rejection of the view of Saints as alternate intercessors and the American ideal of equality. There's something comforting to me in my spiritual mediocrity when I can reject what "Saints" have to say, even though they've experienced a more intimate relationship with the Lord than I can even imagine, with the thought, "There's nothing special about being a 'Saint,' since we're all saints, according to the Good Book."

Actually, I've discovered that there are, in fact, people who have more intimate relationships with the Lord than I do. (This is not a recent discovery, for those keeping score at home.) It makes sense to me that there ought to be a special place in Christendom reserved for those who in the course of their life reach a level of spiritual rapport with the Lord that is rare and to be treasured. Capital-S Saints seems as good a word as any for these folks.

Perhaps part of the issue is that "Saint" is kind of a vague word, kind of like "bald". When does someone with a full head of hair move to being bald? One less hair? Ten less hairs? When does one cross the line? Well, there is no line per-se, but when someone is truly bald, it's easy to see. Before employing "Saint," we'd like to know the bright line between not-Saint and Saint. But there are plenty of folks in Christendom who are Saints, even though we might not be able to say, "On this day," or, "with this act, Larry became a Saint." (Good job, Larry!)

Being a Saint, too, is a place distinct from those simply exhibiting the Spectacular gifts of the Spirit and those who are devoutly pious. Of course, many Saints exhibit both, but doing one or the other doesn't make one a Saint. I'd say it's the difference between an 18 year-old Marine recruit using his M-16 effectively, a Military bureaucrat wearing his Dress Uniform, and a weathered, wizened, and war-wise Master Sergeant who looks sharp in his uniform, can hit a bulls-eye at 200 meters, but has in his core the warrior spirit. It isn't that the first two can't become the latter, but at the moment they certainly are not the latter. (This is an illustration I should have used in explaining my earlier thinking on the relationship between piety & holiness.)

In truth, my Saintly thinking is brought on by reading Evelyn Underhill's Concerning The Inner Life
The question of the proper feeding of our own devotional life must, of course, include the rightful use of spiritual reading. And with spiritual reading we may include formal or informal meditation upon Scripture or religious truth: the brooding consideration, the savouring - as it were the chewing of the cud - in which we digest that which we have absorbed, and apply it to our own needs. Spiritual reading is, or at least it can be, second only to prayer as a developer and support of the inner life. In it we have access to all the hoarded supernatural treasure of the race: all that is has found out about God. It should not be confined to Scripture, but should also include at least the lives and the writing of the cannonized and uncannonized saints: for in religion variety of nourishment is far better than a dyspeptic or fastidious monotony of diet. If we do it properly, such reading is a truly social act. It gives to us not only information, but communion; real intercourse with the great souls of the past, who are the pride and glory of the Christian family. Studying their lives and work slowly and with sympathy; reading the family history, the family letters;p trying to grasp the family point of view, we gradually discover these people to be in origin though not in achievement very much like ourselves. They are people who are devoted to the same service, handicapped often by the very same difficulties; and yet whose victories and insights humble and convict us, and who can tell us more and more, as we learn to love more and more, of the relation of the soul to Reality. . . . It is one of the ways in which the communion of saints can be most directly felt by us.

We all know what a help it is to live among, and be intimate with, keen Christians; how much we owe in our own lives to contact with them, and how hard it is to struggle on alone in a preponderantly non-Christian atmosphere. In the saints we always have the bracing society of keen Christians. We are always in touch with the classic standard. Their personal influence still radiates, centuries after they have left the earth, reminding us of the infinite variety of ways in which the Spirit of God acts on people through people, and reminding us too of our own awful personal responsibility in this matter. The saints are the great experimental Christians, who, because of their unreserved self-dedication, have made the great discoveries about God; and, as we read their lives and works, they will impart to us just so much of these discoveries as we are able to bear. Indeed, as we grow more and more, the saints tell us more and more: disclosing at each fresh reading secrets that we did not suspect. Their books are the works of specialists, from whom we can humbly learn more of God and of our own souls.

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