On a corner in Cherry Valley, stand two giant skeletons. For this season they are dressed in formal clothes, to celebrate their day, All Hallow’s Eve, a day that promotes the dark powers—witches, demons, goblins, zombies, ghosts—things that go bump in the night. I smile at the humor of these giants, dressed up for holidays like Cinco de Mayo, July 4, Christmas. Giants figure in legends like Jack and the Beanstalk, and David and Goliath. This night we celebrate these monsters at the margins and death, the monster who will greet us all.
But tomorrow is All Saints Day, a lesser-known Christian holiday that reminds us that the air is also populated with a cloud of witnesses, people who have died, who are close but unseen.
A few days after his mother died, our neighbor said she showed up in a dream. She stood in a pool of light, saying, “I had to go. The Lord wanted me.” When Pentecostal theologian, Chris Green was ordained as Bishop he said, “When I walked in the procession, I saw people from my past. They were beaming, alight with pride. It was glorious.”
But he questioned, “Why is my mind running to these figures? I thought snap out of it. You don’t have to be the critic of your own experience.” Perhaps this is good advice for when we sense the people who loved us, who have died, have drawn near. Maybe we should relish their presence, and let them encourage us to “run with patience the race set before us.”
I’m Katie Andraski and that’s my perspective.
If you’d like to listen to me read this, click here.
More to Chris Green’s Comments
There’s more to what Chris Green said than a 250 word limit would allow for a radio spot. I first came across him during an Open Table Conference and was impressed by how he points out things in scripture we easily miss, that are right there in front of our eyes. He’s a Pentecostal theologian who loves his tradition but also honors liturgy. When he started his Substack, Speakeasy Theology, I was glad to hear more of what he says. Green is planting a church in Chattanooga called St. Mary’s. Every other Sunday evening he leads a Zoom Bible study where he invites comments and prayer requests from the audience. (You can find information at the above link.) Since I began my walk with God as part of a Plymouth Brethren congregation and continued with a heavy influence of evangelicalism/fundamentalism, asking the saints for prayers and even praying for the dead is a foreign concept. I found Green’s talk enlightening. (I transcribed the talk, so the following is what I heard.)
When Green was being ordained as Bishop of the Diocese of St. Anthony, he felt the presence of people who’d loved him, saints he admired, and the Lord himself. He states, “When I started walking in, making the procession. I saw people from my past. Saw it as stratified. People in my early time and in later years, my just married time. Four distinct layers of my life leading to this moment. By the time I reached my seat. This service was the integration of my whole life. Jesus and Mary and Maximus and other saints were right behind me.
“As soon as I sensed it I thought I was being weird. I started to sense the presence of people I’d known, including most forcefully my grandparents. They were beaming. Alight with pride. The weight of it. There was something heavy about it, but not burdensome. It was glorious. A strangeness and intensity.
“Then I wondered, what am I doing? Why is my mind running to these figures? I thought snap out of it. You don’t have to be the critic of your own experience. I have plenty of people who will do that. What I heard Jesus saying from behind me is: We are all here. I had a fuller sense of people here. I could feel their nearness.”
Why wouldn’t the saints be available to us, since they have died and been born into the fully human being, that God had in mind when He made them.
Other Ideas on Praying for the Saints
James Kiefer in Mission St. Claire said there’s no harm in asking the saints, the people who’ve gone before, to pray for us just like we’d ask for prayer in a prayer meeting or from a friend. If we believe they are alive, then why not?
I never thought of asking C.S. Lewis to intercede for my work as a writer, since I “received my call to write” through reading and studying his work. As a faithful Protestant type I figured I’d go straight to Jesus, something I’ve done my whole life. These days I don’t have many friends I can whine, cry and complain to, so like a missionary Chris Green talked about in his lecture The Wounds of God, I try to tell Jesus the details, things that trouble and delight me, like I would with a trusted girlfriend. My long walks with Omalola down the road are good for this because no one can hear me. In between I go silent and look at the tree, the fields, the sky. I step aside when I hear gravel crunching down the road because a neighbor will drive by and I wonder about cars I don’t recognize. I see the sun breaching the horizon, smearing light across the landscape, dispersing thick clouds.
Amber Haines in her new book The Deep Down Things (co-written with her husband, Seth), talks about how it might be important to find a saint to identify with. She says, “The author of the biblical book of Hebrews calls this ‘the great cloud of witnesses’ (12:1) and so many of them earned their sainthood by perseverance through persecution or by tending to the outcasts of society. If we get to know them, if we sit on their shoulders, we might learn a thing or two about what it means to carry hope in poverty, persecution, depression, doubt, or other times of despair.” She urges her readers to pick a saint and study their lives (22).
I’m No Mystic
At first I wanted to say I’m no mystic. I’ve not experienced anything like Green experienced. But that’s not true. I have. Though after my mother died I had the sense her funeral was more wedding than funeral, that she was no longer in the grave, that time had bent around and she had left the grave in the resurrection of the dead. And the morning my brother died of an aorta aneurism, I dreamed about demons like flying monkeys flocking around the Big Barn across from my brother’s house, and a pot of bloody guts in the kitchen. I shook my fist, “You are dead. Death is dead. That shaking fist carried me through my brother’s dreadful death days. Death is dead. You are dead.
At lunch before we buried him, my two aunts, two cousins and I talked about my cousin’s first sone being born at the same time my brother died.”Your grandmother was born during her father’s wake. He’d died when a trap door fell on his head. Her uncle offered to take her and her mother into his house. But she refused to become a domestic for the rich ladies in Baldwinsville. We can blame this on the devil, one tragedy in a series,” said Aunt Lois.
“Two people have died in my family’s house. Bless it,” I whispered.
Both aunts thought I was being silly, though Aunt Lois said, “Your grandmother went to seances until she saw a table put out a foot, one step on stairs. From then on she put no stock in mystery except the time her best friend saw the Lord Jesus Christ standing at the foot of her bed.”
I remember hearing that story years before and how my childhood faith was heavy with intellect. God and his work with people were explained and certain. This faith felt like the boxes in old mail slots at hotels—contained, organized. My mother said she appreciated how everything made sense. But I felt trapped as a child even though mystery swirled around me because I grew up on a farm that had a powerful presence.
When our house was broken into last Christmas I felt a presence, like an angel was standing in our staircase. Nothing was taken but a few rings. And a neighbor, skilled in carpentry, came right over and helped Bruce fix the door.
Naomi Wolf on Perceiving Mystical Stuff
As children of the Enlightenment, it’s easy to question these experiences, or to not even perceive them because we don’t have language for them. In “Metaphysical Energies: The Last Taboo?” Naomi Wolf writes,
“I think we need to break the taboo, in our educated, Western discourse, against talking about metaphysical energies, both positive and malevolent. I believe the world has indeed changed — recently — in such a way that the taboo against such discussions is disempowering to us.”
She goes on to say, “On a related note, could modern, secularly-trained humans have lost certain abilities to perceive the world, and the divine or malevolent powers manifested within it, as certain ways of describing reality, including certain words and concepts, have been abandoned, or have atrophied?
“What if we have lost our abilities to discern energetic changes and to adapt to them? What if we have lost sophistication in sensing and reacting to — many things that were palpable to our forebears in many nations?
“What if we have, through disuse and the abandonment of language for it, lost our ability to see — the spirits of animals and trees and water, which ability is universal in preindustrial societies? What if we lost our ability to see and to hear the voice of God — which ability also was commonplace in earlier times, and around the world? What if we have lost our ability to detect and react to what can only be called, beneficent and malevolent energies and entities?”
It’s tempting seek mystical experiences, like the holy grail, but I don’t think they’re the point. The point is loving God and our neighbor. The world is miraculous as it is. And simply practicing silence and beholding what’s there is enough, even if it does get boring at times.
Well, what do you think? Have you experienced anything similar? What do you think of asking the saints for help? (These are new ideas for me. I always figured just go right to Jesus.)
If you’d like to receive these in your inbox, you can click here.