October 31, 2012

Do I *Really* Mean to Be One, Too?

Filed under: Children and Families,Cycle of Prayer,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 4:20 pm

This morning at the breakfast table I threw out three questions:

What is a saint?

Would you want to be a saint?

Do you believe there are saints among us in this time?

The answers surprised me.

Robert set the bar really high, defining a saint as someone who devotes his or her life entirely and unselfishly to humble service in the name of Christ. While he would love to say that he could, he does not believe that it would be possible for him to achieve that level of discipline. He doesn’t know if there are saints among us because he sees sainthood is an institution of God, not of Man; there is no way he can know the inner life of another person. And he certainly can’t know God’s opinion of that inner life.

What surprised me the most was that he disqualified a lot of what I would have thought fit his definition. In my estimation, Men and Women Religious (of whom his favorite uncle is one) would certainly fit the criteria of devoting their lives to humble service. Yet to him, that is within the ordinary span of their vows and does not rise to the extraordinary devotion of a saint.

Like I said, he set the bar really high.

Mallory, on the other hand, thinks that saints are lovely people, kind and helpful, but she wouldn’t want to be one. She doesn’t like having people make a fuss over her. And she doesn’t think that just anyone should be a saint because it would be exhausting for the rest of us to have to make a fuss over so many people. Even grouping them (as I suggested that we sort of do on All Saints Sunday) is a big effort, plus it loops back to the possibility that someone might someday make a fuss over her.

So yeah, they’re lovely people, but let’s not get carried away.

Of course the moderator couldn’t wiggle out of answering. In fact, they were pretty excited about the prospect of picking my answers apart.

I wouldn’t want to be a saint because I don’t want to have a gruesome death. (Mallory quickly pointed out that not all saints are martyrs.) Plus I’d have to perform miracles; I don’t want to work that hard after I’m dead. (They both claimed that by first asking what a saint is, I had already established that we didn’t have to follow any extant guidelines; this was an opinion question.)

They had me cornered, boxed in by my own attempts to dodge the questions.

So I confessed that do believe that Holy Men and Holy Women walk among us. I do buy into the transcendence of those “who thee by faith before the world confessed.”[i] I believe deeply that that of Christ in each of us does have the ability and the potential to shine a light in deepest darkness.

That’s why I’ll be in church as a congregant this Sunday. I’ve carefully held the day open on my preaching schedule, so that I might be fed by one of my favorite feasts of the liturgical year. That is why I’ll get there in time to let the big opening hymn wash over me, as a cloud of witnesses streams through the gates of memory.

As we cleared the dishes and went our separate ways, packing lunches, taking showers, checking e-mail….one final thought surfaced:

I wonder what other people think. Could you put this on your blog, Mom? Ask people to write their opinions in the comments. That would actually be interesting.

So, what do you think?

Did they live only in ages past, or are there hundreds of thousands still?

Can you meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea?

Do you mean to be one too?[ii]

[i] The Hymnal 1982, #287

[ii] The Hymnal 1982, #293



  1. I will start with the last two questions first. They’re simpler.

    Would you want to be a saint?
    I would want to meet a standard as high as that of a saint. Perhaps a better question is, am I capable of becoming one? Am I disciplined enough to do this? I know that this will lead me to being happier and healthier during my life and to a better destination after death, but I am also tempted like everyone else by my own human (vs. heavenly) notions about things.

    Do you believe there are saints among us in this time?
    Yes of course. By definition there must be either saints, or people successfully striving towards it, or our world would lose all legitimacy with God and with heaven. Remember Noah? It is said that God promised never to send such a flood after that, but that does not mean that Soddom and Gemorrah did not suffer any retribution later on when their cities became corrupt.

    What is a saint? (I wonder how many volumes have been written on this subject….)
    I agree with some but disagree other notions expressed by various people in your conversation above (some of which were argued against). For instance, I don’t believe a saint must or will fuss over other people, become a martyr, but I do agree with your husband that a monk or a nun is not NECESSARILY a saint. To me, a saint may give up certain things, but they do so in order to gain other things that people who do not strive to be like saints cannot obtain. This doesn’t mean dying, and it doesn’t even mean physically or materially having less (as a monk or nun might traditionally speaking). It means that in their minds, they are gradually able to reach a place where the qualities of God’s kingdom become more important than their various immediate wants and needs on earth.

    To me, a saint looks at the world around him, and makes suggestions and gives advice when people are open to it, but does not “fuss over people” as Mallory feared they might do to her. When advice is not welcome, the saint quietly fills in what must be done to ensure that things are done as much as possible in a way that will allow the world to become a better, more positive place that reflects God’s love, compassion, and patience in a way that is true to what that person believes / understands to be good and true. He or she may help you to complete something worthy of completion, to understand something, or to become a more worthy person in the eyes of God, but you may or may not recognize that he or she has impacted your life in any way whatsoever. You may or may not even know who he or she is.

    He or she also strives to constantly improve his or her understanding and him or herself. Completely non-religious people strive to accomplish this last part to some degree, too. They go to school, give themselves training, evaluate each other and themselves in their jobs, volunteer, etc. To do this in a saintly manner, however, that person must have access to something that tells him about some of the basic principles of heaven. But I do not think that this necessarily means that he or she is Christian. Although I grew up attending church and that many important truths can be learned through it, I do not believe that Christianity is the only religion to have recognized some of the basic truths about heaven, why humans are here, and how they are meant to live their lives. If people are able to pick out and follow godly principles in whatever philosophy they follow, I think God will respect and honor that much more than lip service to a specific “more correct” religion. I think some parts of this might seem heretical to some people out there, but have heard some say it is a more common belief among younger generations. For any that disagree (with this or anything else I am writing), by all means please go by the criteria you believe a saint must meet; if you or I are here on earth, chances are that neither of us can perfectly know the mind of God, and probably won’t even when we get to heaven (though in all likelihood we’ll know it better).

    I believe that a saint can be found in all walks of life, whether it be church, school, home, etc., because I don’t believe that any particular profession or social role can make you into a worthy person in God’s eyes; it is how you carry out your job or social role that counts. It is only that historically, we tend to know and hear the most about the ones who lived as monks, nuns, etc. But it is their inner qualities we should look at, not at their profession. A saint must instead recognize and meet the standards that God has set for humans to live by, and the standards that are required to be worthy of heaven – and that also must be according to what he or she can understand him or herself, not according to what others try to understand and make that person do in his or her stead.

    After this, I could start getting into what level of attainment of these criteria a person must reach. But I guess “seek and ye shall find,” right? God understands his criteria better than us, and the closer we get to the criteria He has set, the better we will understand how far we need to go in order to reach the goals he has set for us and the goals we have for ourselves. While there are general principles out there to guide us, people cannot judge absolutely while here on earth what any other person has understood or attained in the eyes of God.

    Comment by CL — November 1, 2012 @ 6:13 pm |Reply

    • Great answers! And you touched on something that we also pondered: Does a saint have to be Christian, or is a similar level of spiritual attainment possible via other paths? Like you, we also concluded that it was not limited to Christianity. Though we did struggle a bit as the circle widened beyond the Abrahamic faiths.

      Thank you for weighing in! I particularly appreciate your sense that it’s worth striving for the sainted standard, because even if we fall short we’ve still attained a higher plain of the inner life.


      Comment by Lisa Meeder Turnbull — November 1, 2012 @ 8:00 pm |Reply

      • 🙂 I think for me, I am able to more easily widen the circle to other faiths depending on how much I know about those specific other faiths and how they interpret things. In my case, that doesn’t always mean Abrahamic faiths; most of my co-workers are not of an Abrahamic faith (though many of them are spiritual and very much believe in the business of the divine and striving towards a divine ideal). And of course it’s definitely worth whatever you can successfully accomplish!

        Comment by CL — November 2, 2012 @ 2:13 am

  2. I asked this in Bible Study yesterday, and here are the thoughts that came up: someone who performs miracles; a person of high morals; a “good” person–kind, compassionate, generous; a person who puts everything aside for their faith in God. I then asked the question that your post raised for me: If my job (according to 1 Timothy) is to “equip the saints for ministry”, how does that change your understanding of the definition of saint? They all said, “Oh, I guess that means US!”

    The person who mentioned miracles went on to comment, “As I think about it, I think we ARE all saints, in a way. Haven’t we all performed a miracle in our lives? Haven’t we made a difference for another person in a way that they couldn’t do for themselves? I think that’s what miracles are about.”

    Comment by Nancy Moore — November 2, 2012 @ 11:25 am |Reply

    • What a GREAT discussion! I love the a-ha moment of working through it. Lovely.


      Comment by Lisa Meeder Turnbull — November 2, 2012 @ 12:43 pm |Reply

      • I do have to correct myself though–that comes from Ephesians, not 1 Timothy!

        Comment by Nancy Moore — November 3, 2012 @ 1:06 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: