Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Holy Days

All Saints' Day

How Weak the Wall

November 1, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

As I reflect on the saints in my life, I realize they are all people who have extended mercy to me, which has given me space to keep growing and relinquishing habits of mind and spirit that keep me from love.



Spirituality & Psychology

All Saints: God of the Living

Jan Richardson

The Painted Prayer Book

Original artwork, poetry, and reflection on the nature of saints by Jan Richardson

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Who has extended mercy to you, helping you to extend that same mercy to others?


When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."—Matthew 5:1-12

What is a saint? Who is a saint? In The Episcopal Church, we must go through two General Conventions no less than fifty years after the death of an individual, engage hearings from proponents of this person’s candidacy for sainthood, have a trial period of their inclusion in our list for three years, and finally vote to have them listed, permanently, as saints in our tradition in our official saints’ calendar called Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

Many people have inspired us from this official list, to be sure. And I’m glad we have it.’s also true that most of the saints in my life will never be considered in that process. And I suspect if they were, a number of them wouldn’t make it through with flying colors. And God knows I’d never make it either.

The saints to whom most of us owe our lives and sometimes our souls are what you might call unofficial saints. While the official saints were all human, we don’t get to hear enough about their humanity. But the saints we know personally are dear to us, often because of the things that many consider un-saintly.

They cuss; they rail against the night; they’ve been known to have a smoke or a drink...they argue, they cry inconsolably at times. They fall on their faces then repent and begin again. They are quirky and odd, doggedly persistent, accomplished in often unseen ways. They laugh themselves silly and dance like Elaine on Seinfeld. They are smart, sometimes brilliant even, and often skeptics. Rarely do they have all the answers. But they are wise. A wisdom that comes only by life, by the ways life can impoverish the spirit. They show us how weak the wall is (a phrase from Jan Richardson) between what we see as the total sum of a life, a relationship, a world—and what more there actually is, just beyond our sight.

Who is it who haunts you with their searing honesty, even as they love you so closely? These ones are likely your saints.

In the gospel reading, Jesus blesses those who are poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who mourn, those who make peace. These are ones who have discovered what matters most. They have let themselves see their own poverty unmasked and have found in it a meeting ground where they can join unlikely companions who are looking for God amid the harshness of life, just as they are.

The beatitudes are Jesus’ description of happiness. He is inviting, with these blessings, an awakening. He wants his hearers to see what really matters in a person’s life. He is inviting the creation of a new community, one rooted chiefly in mercy.

Mercy is a kind of space we give to someone even and especially when we believe them to be undeserving. It is a space born of the knowledge of our own sinfulness and wounds. Seeing the poverty in our own spirits, we are humbled and opened. We are then able to honor the same poverty in our neighbor.

Mercy requires patience. Mercy can restore a person’s honor.

The saints in my life are those who have treated me as beloved, highly honored, not because of my status or accomplishments but because they look at me through eyes of unfathomable mercy. And I mean that word—unfathomable. The saints in my life see things in me I cannot see in myself. And, they teach me to see those same things in others—to see God where I would see shortcomings. To see where a person is growing, is trying, is struggling and needing not my judgment but my mercy, my support, my strength.

A true spiritual family is marked by the discipline of extending mercy to those who challenge you.

When we have eyes to see others that way, we are changed. We become more capable of changing the world. We are less tyrannized by our own insecurities and need to judge others. We get away from seeing the world as populated by “good” people and “bad” people. We realize we all do things we would do again and those we would do differently if we had the chance. Our thinking matures; our hearts grow. We become saints.

My childhood favorite hymn about saints concludes with these words:

“You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea. For the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”

Who are the unofficial saints in your life? Call them to mind. Acknowledge them. Remember their poverty of spirit, their hard earned wisdom, their peculiarities, their inimitable traits. Not perfect people. But merciful people. People who have looked at you with unfathomable mercy. People who inspire you to look at others in the same way.

Honor these unofficial saints today. You know who they are. They need no vote from General Convention, no hearings on their qualifications. Their qualifications are written on your heart forever.

As I continue in these days to reflect on thin places, I realize my unofficial saints are the ones who show me what’s just on the other side of the world I imagine to be all there is. There is a poem by Jan Richardson that speaks to this (see today’s spirituality and psychology lesson). I close her poem:

God of the Living
A Blessing

When the wall

between the worlds

is too firm,

too close.

When it seems

all solidity

and sharp edges.

When every morning

you wake as if

flattened against it,

its forbidding presence

fairly pressing the breath

from you

all over again.

Then may you be given

a glimpse

of how weak the wall

and how strong what stirs

on the other side,

breathing with you

and blessing you


forever bound to you

but freeing you

into this living,

into this world

so much wider

than you ever knew.

—Jan Richardson

from The Cure for Sorrow

May we be given those who show us how weak the wall and how strong what stirs on the other side. They are our saints.