Saturday, November 4, 2017


Saints’ Day is celebrated worldwide by Christians on November 1.

Today is November 4.

I’m writing about saints I love to remember, but I’m three days late.

An excuse: Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland, will celebrate the Eucharist for all saints tomorrow afternoon, Sunday, November 5. If Trinity can wait four days, why can I not wait three days and feel great about it? Okay, on with it:

Let’s start here. Every single person has died or will die. Once they die, they still live or live again, however you want to think about it, in the afterlife. It’s our connection with those who’ve died that we celebrate with All Saints.

Who are your saints? If you’re religious at all, your religious group probably has a list of saints. You can pick and choose.

Image: Saint George and the Dragon
(Ethiopian, 1970s)

But maybe you have your own personal list of saints—deceased relatives, mentors, teachers, friends—that you want to remember. That’s where I’m at too. Particularly, people with traits you can use to guide your actions and decisions in life. We all want to live better lives, right? Saints are your tool kit to build a better life.

In West Africa, the dead are real life figures. They still live, oftentimes right in the community. You placate and love with them through offerings at their shrines. An ancestor shrine can be very simple or quite complex. Simple one pictured below.

West Africans look to their saints—ancestors, deceased family members--for help and for reminders of the best ways to live. It’s important for the living to remember the dead. They’ll punish you if you forget to honor them. On this blog-site I’ve posted a fascinating story of one punishment by an angry ancestor. Navigate to Chapter 4 on this site  and scroll down to the page that contains the image you see below. (It’s about halfway through the chapter.) Look there for the story of one poor man who was stricken because he failed to sacrifice to the ancestors.

An ancestor shrine near Bo, Sierra Leone, 1960-61

Christians? Around the world, depending on the church and the culture, Christians remember the saints: with icons, pictures, cemeteries, etc.

Every single time my Christian parents took me from Tacoma, Washington, U.S.A., to Spokane, about three hundred miles away, we had to visit the cemetery. Both my mother and my father were raised in Spokane. Their dead family members were all buried in the same graveyard. We’d go there, walk from grave to grave, perhaps place a flower, and remember.

I remember my grandmother, Emma Colburn. A saint, I guess. Her husband died mid-life and she supported herself by growing and selling flowers. She moved to Tacoma to be near her daughter and family, which included me. Grandma just never gave up. Though she needed to use crutches to walk, she never gave up mowing her own small lawn with a push mower. Taciturn, tall and thin, rarely smiling, but loving.

Grandmother Reeck, almost the opposite. She lived with her daughter in Spokane, spent her days on the couch, looking plump and happy. She was the picture of contentedness.
Never give up and always project kindness. Those are some traits I remember from a couple of my saints.

I remember my uncle Art. He and his wife owned and operated a small neighborhood grocery store in N.E. Spokane. Art was masculine, deep-voiced, tough but tender. He served ice cream and ate it by the quart. Traits I’d like to follow, except in moderation on the ice cream bit.

Who are your saints? No matter where you live, what religious tradition you follow or don’t follow, use this occasion to make a list of them and their traits that you can copy with pride and use in your life.

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