Rev. Dr. Steven Yagerman
How do I become a saint?
This Sunday the Church celebrates our patronal feast, All Saints Day.
The Gospel reading this year, as every year comes from the part of the Sermon on the Mount called the Beatitudes. Here, Jesus lists a series of blessings that the world would typically see as contraindicated. Our typical beatitudes, might be things like, keep a stiff upper lip and don’t show weakness.
Here in the first Beatitude, Jesus says that those who are poor in spirit possess the kingdom of heaven. Through one’s lack of wholeness, our deep longing and poverty, we become candidates for a different way of being human. This is a way that senses the universal connection of all life and the special interconnectedness of the human family. The poor (in Luke) and poor in spirit are the ones who are candidates for experiencing this fuller, more human way, of being human.
In the second beatitude, Jesus pronounces that those who mourn are blessed. It seems to me that those who mourn are seen to be in trouble, in need of sympathy or even pity. But upon closer examination there are a lot more things to say about those who mourn.
First of all, these are people who are painfully aware of loss. People who mourn know they once lived in a world that felt connected and safe. Somehow, through the death of a loved one or a dream or particular environment, the world is no longer the safe and loving place that it was. The normal advice would be to avoid these situations by all means. We might deliberately limit our capacity to be attached to someone or limit our ability to feel or empathize. However, as we harden and become inured to loss we also harden and become inured to the joys of human connection. In scripture this is described as the heart being hardened. In a sense, this hardening is a freezing or reification of mourning. We stay stuck in a deadened world, a transactional world, where all interchange is based on economic considerations. In this limited existence people turn to various forms of intoxicants and distractions to cope with this sense of soul-freeze.
What seems unique to me in the scriptures is that instead of avoiding mourning, it is by facing and embracing loss, that blessing and comfort are attained. When we face our sadness and poverty, that something in our lives and in our world is not as it was, or should have been or should be, we become open to new level of awareness, indeed a new sense of life itself.
All saints are marked by this sensitivity to what could have been and what should be. They allow themselves, or perhaps can’t help feeling there is something terribly wrong and out of place. With that raw sense of loss as a starting point, blessing and comfort become possible. Instead of reification (hardening) of the soul, a new sense of possibility and connection begins to make life worthwhile and the world worth engaging, our synapses themselves begin sending and receiving information from our entire surround.
How do I become a saint? The answer seems to be, start where you are and allow yourself to feel what has happened to your life and to our world. We are called upon to mourn what has been lost. By this honest embrace, a hardening of the heart is averted and an openness to a life of empathic connection and growth becomes attainable.