By Kristine Blaess
There was a group of people, the Solutreans, who lived in sub-freezing open-air camps in central France 18,000 years ago. Although this prehistoric culture was short-lived — only 3,000 years — the Solutreans are remembered for the beauty they left in their wake.
These are probably the people who drew the striking paintings in the caves at Altamira and Lascaux. They took the art of crafting stone beyond where any other group ever had before, creating astonishingly beautiful spear points and knife blades from the rocks at hand.
These flint blades are beautiful for the grace of their shape. They are crafted in the likeness of laurel leaves and willow leaves. But they are even more stunning for their sharpness.
In the hand of a skilled artisan, flint can flake to a cutting edge of just a few molecules thick.
The human spirit is remarkable for its ability to create, for its resilience and beauty. Our spirits are remarkable for the currents that run deep within all of us, and for our capacity to hold pain and joy side by side.
The Solutreans demonstrated in the art they left on the cave walls, and in the incredible crafting they did with these flint blades, the longing that all of us have to connect, both with the earth around us, but also with the divine.
Our spirits are remarkable for their capacity to long for more than this world can fill, and at the same time to feel the loneliness of our longing. I notice that unmet yearning in myself when I stop and am still for a moment, and I wonder about it.
Paraphrasing pastor and writer Frederick Buechner, “Maybe in the end it is [God’s presence] that we’re lonely for.” Maybe it is the company of the saints we long to keep.
We see in the eyes of the saints something that penetrates into the hollowness of our longing. We see that their gaze has lit upon Christ, and that in the fire of God that has been ignited in them, somehow God’s presence has met and mingled with the very real stuff of this earth.
We see in the witness of the saints’ lives that God has knit together the elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of his Son our Lord.
The saints we celebrate today have, in the words of St. Paul, “obtained an inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people. It is in this inheritance, within this redemption, that they have come to live for the praise of his glory.”
If you hold a Solutrean blade, one of these blades that thins to a cutting edge of just several molecules thick, to the sky, writer Annie Dillard tells us, “most of it shines dull, waxy gold-brown in the center, and yellow toward the edges. At each fractured rim, the blade thins from translucency to transparency. You see your skin and the sky. At its very edge, the blade dissolves into the universe at large. It ends, imperceptibly, at an atom.”
And in fact, when a modern surgeon at Michigan Medical School used one of these blades to open a patient’s abdomen, it was smoother, he said, than his best steel scalpel. Because its edge slips almost atom by atom into the tissue, it split few cells and barely left a scar.
When you hold one of these blades to the sky, or use it in an operating room, where does the blade end and the sky begin? Where does the blade end and the human flesh begin?
On this All Saints’ Sunday, I want to suggest that God’s kingdom coming into our midst is something like a Solutrean blade slipping almost imperceptibly into our presence.
When we join our lives to God’s promise as we baptize our children, where does our world end and God’s kingdom begin? When we take the body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of Holy Eucharist, where does our flesh end and God’s presence begin?
God’s kingdom is slipping into our world before our eyes. And whether they are seeing or unseeing, God’s kingdom is opening before us.
On All Saints’ Sunday we celebrate the lives of those who have gone in faith before us. We celebrate and are inspired by the stories of those who had a special connection to God, whose lives shone a special light that still lights our eyes.
The light that glimmers in the Saints’ eyes speaks of what they have seen. God’s presence has penetrated into their lives and is turning that longing that is within each of us into fullness, contentment.
In their longing for a glimpse of God, the saints have found their home.
Sometimes we can see it and feel it. We can taste it. God’s kingdom. Sometimes, like in the water of baptism and the bread and wine of Communion, the imperceptible becomes perceptible. The invisible power of God’s kingdom carves its way into our reality and becomes visible.
When Jesus was born, God himself was made incarnate in this world. In Jesus’ life lived among us, in the water of baptism and the bread and wine of Communion, the Solutrean edge of God’s kingdom unites with this earth. Jesus himself is made into things of this earth — water, bread, wine. As we bless the water, the bread, the wine, Jesus’ Holy Spirit comes into them. As we wash in them, as we take them into our bodies, somehow God himself washes over us, and comes into our bodies, and heaven and earth unite in us.
We are brought into the company of the saints.
Through our baptisms, which we remember today, or if we are not yet baptized, we look forward to, we remember that in the water poured upon us and the words spoken over us, God’s kingdom unites with our lives.
In ways often imperceptible but real and powerful nevertheless, in our baptisms, which we remember and look forward to today, our lives are indelibly marked. God’s covenant is sealed into our lives forever.
Because we, marked with the cross of Christ, belong to God. We, through our baptisms, have become citizens of heaven. We have been brought into the great company of witnesses, the family of God that crowds around in this space even now. We have been brought home and given the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance — the immeasurable greatness of Christ’s power.
And we, with our searching hearts and inarticulate longings, in Christ are being brought home. Christ, whose name is above all names and whose power transcends every other power, Christ has been made head of this church, head of this body of ours, this body of saints.
Paraphrasing Frederick Buechner, “Maybe in the end it is [God’s presence] that we are lonely for.” Maybe it is the company of the saints we long to keep. Maybe this is “the place we know best by longing for it, where at last we become who we are, where finally we find [our] home.”
The Rev. Dr. Kristine Blaess is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.