Today is All Saints Day. It’s not a big holiday in the church where I attend, but it’s one of those religious holidays (like Ash Wednesday) that I secretly enjoy and look for small ways to commemorate.
So what is it? All Saints Day is a day to look back upon those in the faith who have died before us. There’s a dual focus. There’s an element of sadness as we grieve those we have lost. But sadness is not the only emotion. Hope is present, too. As people of faith, we believe that death is not the last word. We believe in resurrection and the triumph of Jesus. We believe that we’ll get to see those saints again.
In addition to grief and hope, I think it’s also an opportunity to take stock of our story and practice gratitude. Our faith isn’t hatched in isolation. We’re not just single drops of water, but part of a much greater stream.
Communities helped form us. Traditions handed down from Christians before us act like trail markers. Not all is sunny and rosy. Churches and people made doozies of mistakes. Humans do, even the best of us. Still, there are many contributions for which to be grateful.
One whom I’m grateful for is Elisabeth Elliot, author of Passion and Purity (among others). This might be a surprising choice given my feminist bent. But, Elliot is still a big part of my early faith and writing journey, and I was saddened to hear of her death this past June.
I read Passion and Purity when I was about sixteen, and it’s still in my list of books that radically changed my life. It might actually be the one that stands out and wins that contest; either that or Anna Karenina, which I started right before J and I met. Passion and Purity still stands out even though I no longer agree with Elliot’s views on gender roles.
So what stuck?
First, Elliot launched me into writing and keeping a journal. I learned that I might have something to say. After reading how she kept her journal, I got a fancy journal and started scribbling away. Embarrassingly, I think I titled my first journal “My Daily Read” after her titling hers “My Daily Bread.” I no longer name my journals; frankly, it now seems weird. And I hate titles.
But back to journaling, from Elliot, I learned to document how God showed up in my life, to seek God in prayer, to track what I was learning about God and the world through books, to ask questions and to note what God’s voice said and sounded like. Elliot formed a lifelong habit in me. Wherever I go, I nearly always have a book, a journal and pens.
Second, people are valuable (including me).
Because of Passion and Purity, I learned that people aren’t means to my ends. I gained a strong conviction about the sacredness and value of the people around me. Theology folk like to throw out the “imago Dei” phrase here: humans are made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26-27). In short, people matter. Every last one of them. Maybe especially the ones who make me irritated and crazy.
People aren’t here for my benefit. They don’t exist as a sidekick or antagonist to my story. Rather, they have their own stories, worries, pains and drama — just like me. And they are each deeply and profoundly loved and known by their Creator, just like me.
That conviction kept me from doing a lot of stupid things in dating, and I wasn’t going to use someone else to make me feel better about myself (or allow someone else to reduce me to an object). Elliot fostered in me an awareness that, even in the midst of my worst anxiety, insecurity and crippling self-doubt, I am still a valuable person (even if I can’t understand why I matter).
If my writing inspires someone the way hers inspired me, I will be a very happy girl.
So, now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear from you. Who has been a big part of your story that you’d want to honor this All Saints Day? It doesn’t have to be a writer. It could be a friend, mentor, family member. What legacy did they leave in your life?