I’m a closet hagiographer.
I know that sounds either like I’m admitting some deep, dark secret, or I have a hair ball, but I promise it’s neither. Hagiography is the study of the lives of the saints across the ages.
I wasn’t always fascinated with the lives of those long dead and venerated. In fact, I started off somewhat fearful of reading about and learning from the “saints”, afraid that I was somehow stepping into idolatry. I’m happy to say that none of my fears were founded, and I have learned more from those dearly departed than I could possibly explain in this short space. That said, one of the gifts that I have received from studying the saints—from St. Antony to St. Francis, from St. Benedict to St. Simeon Stylites—is the practice of observing the feasts.
Now, while it may sound like a great deal of fun, the practice of observing feasts isn’t about indulging in sumptuous meals on a regular basis (my waistline is grateful). Feast days in the Church calendar, whether it be Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant, are days on which particular saints are commemorated, sometimes with services or vigils, sometimes simply with the honor of having the Church turn her attention to those whose lives were lived in service to her. For me, a lay and extremely amateur observer of these days, feast days are an opportunity to spend time meditating on the heroes of the faith, and asking God what He has for me in their stories.
The other great benefit of spending time searching out the feast days—finding myself in their stories and questions—is that by focusing on the lives of those whom God has graced with His knowledge and presence, I find myself held. The church calendar is not something I control. It isn’t buffeted by my whims or emotions. It doesn’t care if I’m having a good day or a bad day, if I’m angry with God or joyfully resting in His presence.
When I find myself on a feast day (recently, that of St. Mary Magdalene, or today’s feast of St. James the Apostle), I am placed before a mirror that is not of my making. In it, I see myself, and my movements toward and away from God, reflecting by the communion of saints in a way that keeps me honest and humble. And in that state, God moves in beautiful, mysterious and marvelous ways.
Have you ever meditated on the lives the saints, or a saint in particular? Who has inspired you?
Where are your mirrors? What helps you discern your movements toward or away from God with clarity?
Tara M. Owens is the senior editor of Conversations Journal. A certified spiritual director with Anam Cara Ministries (www.anamcara.com), she practices in Colorado and around the world. She is profoundly grateful to do ministry and life with her husband and best friend, Bryan. She is working on an upcoming book from InterVarsity Press on spirituality and the body. If you’d like to continue the conversation with Tara, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follower her on Twitter at t_owens.