All Saints Day—November 1

All across the world, plants and flowers, trees and flags, mementoes and framed photographs stand on quiet graves to mark that communion of life that one generation feels with another. Our souls stretch always forward, yes, but our hearts stretch always back. The chain of life never breaks, the shape of soul never strains beyond what formed us, what filled us with life in the first place.

We are bound to one another, each generation a link in the chain, each generation a standard for one to come. The people over whose graves we weep are not simply people we have known or who, though strangers, have had the decency to disappear from an earth already overcrowded. No, we cry tears of loss only for those whose lives touched our own and made them better. We cry both for parents and for politicians, for friends and for public figures, for anyone who has lived out “the communion of saints,” the Eucharist of humankind, the Christening of life and made it real in our own time, in our own neighborhoods, in our own world. We weep for those whose faith has formed our own.

When we visit the graves and say the memorial prayers and tell the family stories over the bodies of the dead, we tell of the Christ we saw in them. We remember how it looked in them. We know in them what it is like to be driven by the consuming power of God, to be totally oriented toward God. The communion of saints stands before us, stark witness to the holiness of God, reminding us always to leave behind us for those yet to come a searing memory of the same.

from In Search of Belief by Joan Chittister
A Questioning Heart

In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot. –Czeslaw Milosz

The quality of life as we know it has changed radically in our lifetime. When I was a young woman, the world—my world—was an exercise in answers. We had absolute answers for everything: who was going to heaven and who was not. The number of planets and how they went together. The age of the earth and how it developed. But now things have changed. Now, it seems, life is more an exercise in questions than a catalogue of certainties. It is the unending process of an expanding universe and its expanding knowledge with it. Nothing, it seems, is not now open to question.

When we consider yesterday’s answers more important than today’s questions, we fail both the past and the future. In the first place, the past was for its own time; in the second place, it is meant to prepare us to face the future.

Never refuse to ask a question however unwelcome the question may be. In the end, it may be the only thing that saves us from our own ignorance. To keep growing, it is imperative to keep asking the forbidden questions.

When we try to stop thought by stopping people from asking forbidden questions, we only prove the paucity of our answers. What is true will hold up to scrutiny—however much untruth is around us. If an idea be of God—like love and goodness and openness and respect and tolerance and compassion—it will thrive in the most godless environment.

–from Aspects of the Heart by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications)
“There comes a time when we have deposited in it all our firstlings, all beginning, all confidence, the seeds of all that which might perhaps some day come to be. And suddenly we realize: All that has sunk into a deep sea, and we don't even know just when. We never noticed it. As though some one were to collect all his money, and buy a feather with it and stick the feather in his hat: whish!--the first breeze will carry it away. Naturally he arrives home without his feather, and nothing remains for him but to look back and think when it would have flown.”  ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Stories of God: A New Translation





It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
it shakes sleep from its eyes
and drops from mushroom gills,
it explodes in the starry heads
of dandelions turned sages,
it sticks to the wings of green angels
that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
it lives in each earthworm segment
surviving cruelty,
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born. 

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

~ Lisel Mueller ~

(from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems)
“I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When we give away our right to think for ourselves, we lose the possibility of ever coming to fullness of life.

It’s so easy to pose as a thinker when what we really are is a consumer of someone else’s thoughts—my husband’s maybe; my pastor’s perhaps; my mother’s, for instance. When we copy the opinions of another, repeat the ideas of others, critique nothing, cut no new mental paths for ourselves, swallow the world like whole cloth, we are not only enslaved, we are clones of those around us, pretending to be human. 

To take the freedom it requires to be myself, to say my ideas aloud, to be strong enough to confront someone else’s ideas, means that we claim the right to contribute to the scope and richness of the human enterprise.

We are so afraid to be different from those whose company we seek. But what is the use of my being with them if the real me is not really with them at all. Then we are both denied. I am denied the right to be me. They are denied the right to be influenced by me as I am by them.

Every one of us is meant to stand for something sometimes in life—to risk ridicule, to bear opposition, to believe differently in the face of those who believe otherwise. And that is often a very lonesome road, peopled only by those free of the seductions of human approval.

But that is the kind of freedom—freedom from the self, freedom for the gospel—that changes things.

-from Aspects of the Heart by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications)