Unlikely Saints

Open Table volunteers

When it comes to saints, religion has been getting it wrong for a long time. We want to look up to heroic figures who seem larger than life. We turn the prophets into sin-free super-humans so we can worship them.

We keep getting things backwards and upside down. God never did look for the righteous and declare them saints. God always seemed to pick the unlikely people to work with and through—like Moses, who killed a few Egyptians and hid the bodies in the desert, and King David, who got a man killed in battle so David could have the man’s sexy wife.

One whiff of the followers Jesus picked and you can smell the stink of stupid. They just never could seem to get what he was saying. They were some of the unlikeliest saints.

If you dig just a little into the stories of the lives of the official saints, you can tell the church picked some whackos, or at least some people with quirky personalities and weird behaviors. Some might have even qualified for a mental health diagnosis. But in a way this is good. Despite our projections of super-holiness onto some people through the ages, when we look a little closer they were always real people with real messes in their lives.

Our job has always been to see their humanity mixed with their divinity.

The author of Revelations in the bible had a vision and heard a voice from the heavenly throne say God is making God’s home with humans.

There was no qualifier in the vision about God only hanging out with the super-religious and excluding the rest of us. God seems to just take us as we are, including our screwiest habits, and asks to move in with us. He is like some unexpected guest who wants to stay in our extra bedroom. We think we need to clean up the mess first but God wants to come today, before we have time to make our house/lives tidy.

We think only nearly-perfect saints are pleasing to God, but it is regular people with regular problems with whom God wants to make a home. We are the unlikely saints who become God’s family.

A lady came slowly rolling herself into Colette’s room in the nursing home while we were talking. I first saw her out of the corner of my eye and thought, “Oh no, some demented woman is just wheeling herself into Colette’s room. We will have to be interrupted, deal with her, and I will probably have to call a nurse.”

She was clearly confined to her wheelchair. Her hair was a mess. Her clothes were as old as she was. And she had a silly expression on her face as she stared at Colette while she crossed the room. I already felt irritated before she even spoke.

But that lady turned out to be a friend of Colette’s named Lois. Colette’s husband had stayed in the same nursing home for a year. Lois had known Colette all through Chuck’s stay there, and has been there ever since. She heard about Colette coming to stay there, and remembered how much Colette liked to color pictures through the long days she sat there with Chuck.

So Lois, not demented after all, had gathered some adult coloring pictures, and brought them to Colette, along with gifting Colette with her own set of colored pencils. What’s more, she looked at Colette with such love, she exuded warmth and kindness, and she could hardly take her eyes off of her. What I had taken as the silly expression of a demented old woman was actually a radiant smile of loving friendship.

It’s a good thing people can’t see into my mind because things are a mess up there sometimes, and it would be quite embarrassing. Lois was an unlikely saint if there ever was one. She will not make the news. Yet she is a great example of what was spoken in Revelations: “God is making God’s home with people.” Which means God could show up in anyone from anywhere, just when we need a friendly face and a thoughtful gesture.

I first met David Trevizo when I was a senior in high school. He had the long hair, torn jeans, and spiritual aptitude of a Jesus freak. (I didn’t know enough then to know he was also really poor. So his torn jeans weren’t about being stylish). To me he was a kind of rock star. He didn’t fit in with the all-white, coat-and-tie-wearing crowd at our large Baptist church. But to me he was a truly Christ-like person. Losing him to a tragic house fire one Christmas Eve was my earliest loss of a friend. He was an unlikely saint, and for All Saints Day, I honored him.

Who are some of the unlikely people in your life who are also saints, the real people, stinky people, people who could mess up with the best of us and yet still shine with the divine inside? Who are the unseen saints, the ones who won’t make the cover of Glamour magazine, who won’t be picked to star in a movie, and yet they still reveal God to us?

On All Saints Day we honored the unlikely saints who show us an improbable and wonderful mixture of humanity and divinity. May we revere their lives by deciding to be unlikely saints ourselves this week. Amen.

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About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through Amazon.com; and of a blog on Wordpress.com, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (www.thescl.net), adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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