Wednesday, November 1, 2017

no but actually all of them

In today’s feast, we have a foretaste of the beauty of this life fully open to the gaze of love of God and neighbor, in which we are sure to reach God in each other and each other in God.
Benedict XVI, Angelus, All Saints Day 2012

when we encounter the Truth together in the person of a Christ who shatters our projects and enables us to look at each other and see the I AM glancing back at us .... that is paradise.
—James Crawford Wiley

In her meditation on time, pain, and the spiritual material of human lives, Annie Dillard describes the sole church on her home island in Washington state, where she worships each Sunday. She admires the simple awe, the unrehearsed piety of the Congregationalist service, in contrast to high church liturgical traditions, which approach God with “an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God.” The Congregationalist service embodies, for Dillard, humanity’s utter boldness in addressing the divine. She writes: "I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches, […] if God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom."

Dillard beautifully encapsulates the central wonder of Christian liturgy in her piquant and mighty definition of liturgy: “words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed.” Liturgy seems to both deeply arise from human instinct, and is yet, a stunning act of pluck
person, yet it is a stunning act of pluck—impertinence, almost. Liturgy is humanity’s stuttering attempt to speak to the heart of the mysteries of faith, of life, of religion. These mysteries, however, are always beyond our ken, and the practice of them is always a foolhardy act of faith.

I think of Dillard's awe and humility often when studying theology: why aren't we afraid that the Divine will zap us right in the middle of our loquacious, verbose hubris disguised in abstruse philosophical vocabulary?



As today dawned, I thought: wait I love this feast. It is one of My Things.™ But I couldn't remember why, exactly. I just vague sensed that All Saints Day was an important part of the Idea Crushes of the Moment circa this spring and summer. Something about ecclesial images? Eschatological Unity? Mary as Church? I couldn't really remember. I remembered I wrote about All Saints Day for a research paper this spring.  So I looked back at it to see if it could remind me of the reasons that this feast was particularly important.

And, as I opened up the old word document, I found the above quote of Annie Dillard's. I wondered why I started a research paper on the saints with Annie Dillard. I wondered if my professor thought the same thing when he had read it.

Lawrence Cunningham, “Hagiography is Christianity from below rather than from above." And I wonder if it is hagiography—the saints, really—who keep us from feeling like God is going to blast us to smithereens in the midst of our worship.


There is so much beauty in the world, it seems to both haunt us and alienate us. It demands that we worship it, and the inescapable overwhelmingness of its demand terrifies us. Rudolf Otto writes about the holy as the Mysterium Tremendum, which is sort of a magnified sense of the uncanny. The uncanny, the supernatural, elicits a physical reaction from humans, "making the human's hair bristle and [her] limbs quake." It is a feeling not of our creatureness, but of our creaturehood, "the consciousness of the littleness of every creature in the face of that which is above all creatures."

I wonder if consciousness of our createdness, which is a consciousness of our belovedness, somehow diminishes our consciousness of creaturehood. I wonder if the goal of worship is to remind us of our creaturehood, and the goal of liturgy is to remind us of our createdness.


In the darkness of the year, in the cold that comes between autumn and winter, and the grey that descends on still colorful trees, we celebrate this one great camaraderie of All Saints. It's a feast that demands, as I've thought about on this 500th year of the Reformation, a reconciliation between ourselves and our neighbor. For we are reminded that our ultimate calling, the reality we are welcomed into, and that we begin to mirror slowly on earth, is a reality where Christ is all-in-all. Where divisions between us are simply not possible, because Christ is all. As Christ always is. We just, too often cannot see him, because, while we are meant to take his form, we are often bent out of that shape.

I wonder if the saints remind us of our createdness, and if it's hard to preserve a sense of creaturehood in such people'd vision of eternity. I

All Saints is perhaps a feast of a clear vision. A restored sight, that enables us to see Christ not just in St. Francis or Clare, in Teresa or John, but in the man with the swollen mouth who stands in the back of church, in the crying child, in the annoying classmate, in our friend and in our neighbor. Because, it reminds us of those who already are enjoying the sight of one another, not in a mirror dimly, but face to face, reflected in the one true face—Christ's.



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