All Saints’ Day has to be one of my favorite Christian holidays. Always November 1, All Saints’ Day (aka All Hallows’ Day or Hallomas) along with its corresponding eve before, All Hallow’s Eve (aka Halloween), has a deep history in Christianity going back 1600 years. This is the day when we literally laugh in the face of death and declare that death did not get the last word. We do this by remembering those restless spirits of the saints, who live on in us echoing into ours, and who continue to move in us, inspire us, and guide us.
I am sure you have people in your lives who you remember like this, and who continue to move in you, guiding you. Perhaps it was a grandmother who taught you to cook, or how to love family. Perhaps it was an influential teacher. Perhaps it was a historic saint of the church who has had a powerful influence on you.
Today I remember St. Francis. Many of you may know a bit about Francis because of his special connection to nature and animals. There are a lot of statues of him in gardens, usually with birds or bunnies or other animals resting on him. While a lot of the stories that have been told of him are mere legends, his deep connection with nature abides and inspires, especially in this 21st Century where we yearn for climate justice and a closer connection with the earth entrusted to our care.
But let me back up and say a bit about how I came to fall in love with this saint of the Church.
I have been enrolled in classes to become a Spiritual Director. It is a rigorous three-year program that I am about half-way through, and it has been opening up a whole new world to me, not just of the inner life, but also equipping me to do my job in profound new ways. Many of you know I am a Labyrinth Facilitator and it turns out I have been on this path for a long time. These Morning Reflections too, which were a staple of my work for years, have shaped this path too.
As part of the trajectory of the Spiritual Director Practicum, Sister Nancy Brousseau (who is an awesome trainer by the way!) has encouraged us to explore who our Spiritual Giant is. This Spiritual Giant or Spiritual Teacher is someone who continues to shape and guide and inspire us. Having already explored many of these mystics for the last year or so, from Hildegard of Bingen, to Ignatius of Loyola, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Evelyn Underhill, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Howard Thurman, etc., this should be an easier choice. Immediately I zoned in on St. Francis.
I remember St. Francis as someone who calls me out of myself to a more extroverted spirituality than I previously had. It is not just his connection to nature but to communities in need, and to really live into that life of Jesus. His prayer life was on the move too, demanding he take up his cross and follow Christ.
Some of you may have noticed the lack of Morning Reflections. Part of this is due to St Francis’ influence. That rhythm of contemplative prayer each morning, digesting scripture, and rising out of the silence to produce a Morning Reflection, which I had come to know and love and which had served me for over 10 years of my ministry, needed a freshening up. And so I allowed God to lead me to new discoveries of prayer and engagement.
Back to St. Francis of Assisi. One of the ways I see his influence is my adoption of a similar practice as his, talking to animals as if they are brothers and sisters. I find my interactions with my dog has changed. I now speak to “Brother Bentley” as if he were an equal partner, leading and guiding me with his curiosity or unconditional love for me. My continued hope and prayer is that this simple adoption of a new language of connection will continue to grow and shape me, perhaps birth a better understanding and solidarity with other life forms.
My prayer for you on this All Saints’ Day is that you too will remember a saint that has gone before us, who inspired to you imitate Christ in deeper ways, and give thanks for their life and the way they have shaped you, and that your life may be a reflection of theirs today.
May those restless spirits come alive in us today!