Kentucky author George Ella Lyon has a great poem titled “Where I’m From.” In it, she offers snapshots of her childhood growing up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and the people who have been part of her own story. Recently, my church enjoyed writing our own “Where I’m From” poems, and people of all ages, teenagers to senior adults, reflected on these sorts of snapshots from their life stories.

It’s an important spiritual practice, especially on this All Saints’ Day, to remember where we are from. What saints from the great “cloud of witnesses” have been part of our own stories? Who has cheered us onward in the lives God is calling us toward?

As Bible scholar Debie Thomas puts it: “I don’t know about you, but I find it far too easy to forget about this ‘cloud’ in my daily life. Living as I do in a culture that worships individualism, I’m quick to assume that I am alone, unseen, and unfettered in my spiritual life. But I’m not; I am surrounded. I’m surrounded by witnesses whose testimonies both console and challenge me. I’m surrounded by witnesses whose stories must nuance and deepen my own faith. Christianity is not about me and my personal Jesus, doing our own private thing together. Ours is a profoundly communal faith, one that spans place, culture, race, ethnicity, and time.”

It’s why I believe so strongly in the power of the Church— of this messy yet beautiful smattering of people whose stories and lives intertwine in a way that hopefully changes all of us.

Because alone, we can only participate in such a small piece of the puzzle. But especially in a world in which the surgeon general is sounding the alarm on the devastating impact of the epidemic of loneliness and isolation. We desperately need each other! We need to be surrounded, and one of the best opportunities for that type of life-saving community in the world is the Church.

I live with a physical disability that causes my bones to break easily, and I’m currently recovering from several fractures earlier this year. If I were to write my own poem in the style of George Ella Lyon, I might say “I am from sterile hospital rooms and spika casts / from a bright purple walker and Kentucky blue wheelchair / and too many broken bones to count.”

As a child, if I fell or got hurt, I learned to articulate what type of pain I was experiencing and if I needed to go to the hospital. However, when I was a toddler, I couldn’t communicate with my parents like that. Whenever I fell or even bumped against something, I would begin to cry (as most toddlers do), and my parents couldn’t always tell if I was seriously hurt or not.

Finally, my dad had this brilliant idea. He would pull out a bottle of “magic bubbles.” He would blow them over whatever part of my body was hurting, and these magic bubbles would calm my fears and give me the courage to try to get up and walk.

Now, you and I both know that these weren’t really magic bubbles; they were 25-cent bubbles from the convenience store down the road. And unfortunately, they couldn’t heal my bones if something were really broken. But whenever I found myself surrounded by a cloud of these fabulous bubbles, somehow I always found the courage to take my next step.

That’s the image I have when I think about this great cloud of witnesses. 

In the midst of all the challenges and inequities and devastating violence and war that our world is experiencing these days, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. However, on this All Saints’ Day, let’s take a moment to remember that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. 

They don’t wave a wand and magically fix everything for us, but they are indeed surrounding us, believing in us, breathing life into us and cheering us onward. Whenever we remember these saints surrounding us, I believe that we can find whatever it is we need to take the next step forward in the world God is calling us toward, one step at a time.

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