When I was tested for hearing loss, I was told I might have trouble hearing in noisy settings. My hearing loss wasn’t severe enough to require hearing aids; nothing on the market was sensitive enough to help me. I might have trouble hearing consonants clearly, the audiologist said. That difficulty explains why as we age, we complain everyone else is mumbling: we miss the consonants.
I’ve found that mild hearing loss brings unexpected pleasures. I’ve heard the prayers and liturgy of the Episcopal Church for more than twenty years now, and I know them fairly well. Recently during the Prayers of the People, however, I heard something new, because I heard incorrectly. The leader of the prayer says, “In the communion of all the saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to Christ our God.” To which the congregation responds, “To you, O Lord our God.”
My mind moves in the same predictable tracks. Usually, when we get to this pledge, I think about Roman soldiers who had to swear their allegiance to Caesar, and how our liturgy and Scriptures were shaped by the times in which they were created. But I heard “In the confusion of all the saints . . . ” and my mind veered off onto a new track.
I suppose the saints are a confused mass for most of us who can’t tell Lucy from Monica or Anthony from Francis. More than that, however, I was thinking about how the saints were confused, too, just as I often am. The way was not clear to them every day; they made mistakes, even the best of them, and sometimes made decisions they later regretted. For this, I love them. A perfect saint is of no use to me, muddling along with all my imperfections. Later that very morning I snapped unkindly and unjustly at a fellow parishioner, only half aware of why I was angry. That’s me, right there in the confusion of all the saints.
Communing or confusing, we can commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to Christ. Everything belongs to God anyway; it’s good for us to admit it. Following the Prayers of the People is the confession of sin. It’s a relief to say, “Here's the mess I have to offer you. Please help me straighten it out and not do it again.”
One day we will join those saints who have gone before, who are now in the “nearer presence of God,” as the liturgy says. Our confusions will join with theirs. With God’s grace, the good things we have done will be part of the circle too, and will be remembered with love.