This marble carving of a girl is the baptismal font in a church in Rome whose patroness lost her child to death at this age. This is a sculpture of her child. She is not beautiful in a classical way that sculpture usually captures physical beauty when an artist is going for pure beauty. This sculpture was being true to life of a certain girl at a certain time in the 1600s. She is clearly Roman and she radiates intelligence and curiosity and vulnerability. As I stare at her, I sense the grief of her wealthy mother and the powerlessness she must have felt when used to so much power as a wealthy person. Her money could not save her life. It could only make an icy cold replica. We still do that.
On this Feast of All Saints. The Revelations reading of this feast day is one of my favorite readings from scripture and in that reading we hear these words:
“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from? “I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows. ” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
This passage gives me hope. This “great ordeal” we call life – so full as it is with grief and joy, hardness and gentleness, pain and ecstasy is a messy thing. We loose our way. We stubble and fall.
We make friends and lose them. We enter into vows which are kept or lost, invaded or squandered. Without a Rule of Life (a course which I will be teaching next term at Cathedral Nite) we take those many tiny steps away from our hopes and callings; and do so very easily, precisely because they are small steps.
The saints we honor today were, I am sad to have to say out loud, just messy humans, no better than you or me. It is just that they were noticed, written about or cast in story, paint or stone. This little saint will never be named in a prayer. Many saints will never be noticed and many who seek the notice will. The church moves saints around on its little chess board playing with their bones and braiding their hair into golden caskets not realizing that the little girl, clutching her mother’s skirts off to the left of the reliquary, peeking around her mother’s hips for safely from the domineering, sallow clerics – that she – that little girl, is a saint. We all are. All of us.
Some of us have had our holiness and goodness obscured by the mud of life. Others of us have not been able to reach our divine potential because we were hit by a car at 7 and cannot run or hit by a parent at 7 and cannot love or hit by a failure at 7 and cannot be. So the one hit by a car, limps- favoring a leg which just needs exercise. The one hit by a parent, hates- warming themselves by old resentments. The one hit by a failure, does – anesthetizing pain with work and business. But we are all made good. We enjoy the sacraments but do not need them in order to approach the throne of a loving God whose self-offering cleared the way for us long ago. We are so good. We cannot see it, but we are. We think we are evil and depraved because God’s goodness is implanted in us and we have a moral center which moans when we make bad choices and because for centuries it has served evil in the church which turned ambition into manipulation and then into cathedrals on the backs of the pro and the scared. But we are good, just as is the tree, the cheetah, the grasshopper and the black lab. Well. Perhaps we are not quite as good as the black lab. But we can always aspire to it.