In the Christian calendar All Saints Day is observed on November 1st, a time to remember the great people of faith who have gone on before and paved the way for us through their examples. Halloween, “All Hallows (Saints) Eve,” comes from the idea of the powers of evil having their last fling before the powers of good and light dominate on All Saints Day.
I grew up Baptist, and in that tradition some of the holy days observed by the more liturgical churches were ignored. I never new about All Saints Day. For us Baptists, all Christians are considered “saints,” not just those so identified by formal high Church leaders. Then I experienced the power of story, particularly the stories of people in our history who wrestled with similar issues as we do and found ways to express faith, justice, peace, and grace in their own context in transformative ways. Every year I would attend the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America’s summer conference, and Paul Dekar would tell the stories of our Baptist peacemaking “saints.” Then I read Daniel Ellsberg’s “All Saints,” a collection of 365 mini-biographies of religious saints and peace and justice heroes to inspire and encourage. Dekar and Ellsberg’s work inspired my own collection of mini-biographies in the “Interfaith Heroes” books and “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.”
My wife and I decided to incorporate the observation of All Saints Day into our family life. So at dinnertime on November 1st before eating we invited each member of the family to tell about someone who was a special role model for us. Sharon and I would usually tell about one family member, such as my father who died before any of our children were born, and about one person from history. The children would add their names to our list. We lit a candle for each one named. Then during dinner Sharon would take a picture from an old calendar and inscribe a poem we composed together with a verse to commemorate each one named. That picture/poem would be hung on the refrigerator for the next year to remind us of these special “saints.”
My saint this year is Saboi Jum, who I wrote about in the Peace Bios section of this website. Saboi was the one who challenged me to a greater vision for peacemaking action. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for Saboi.
In this context love a tradition from Latin America. In various settings people remember the names of those who have gone on before, call those names out, and everyone says, “Presente!” However one understands or believes about what happens after death, these ones are present with us in the very least in the on-going impact they have made in our lives and how their memories and examples shape what we do today. So for all these heroes for peace and justice, “saints” if you will, I say, “Presente!”