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Lessons from the Saints

I’ve always been fascinated with the lives of the saints throughout Christian history. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is the fact that many of them were very, very weird.

This is to be expected of extremely holy people, of course — after all, it’s a person’s other-wordly spirituality that really gets them on the road to sainthood in the first place, isn’t it? So we shouldn’t be surprised at saints like, for instance, Saint Denis, the 3rd-century Bishop of Paris and the patron saint of France. He was beheaded for his faith. Only he arose post-execution and walked around for awhile carrying his severed head. You’ll occasionally see statues of Saint Denis walking around with his head in his hands — literally — right below his big gory stump of a neck.

And then there’s Christina Mirabilis (1150-1224) who could hardly stand to be around normal people because she could smell the sin in them, and apparently sin emits a particularly nasty odor if you have the proper olfactory sensitivity. Which explains why Christina — also known, awesomely, as "Christina the Astonishing" — would occasionally levitate in order to get away from sinners’ stink.

Levitation. Super senses. Cool names. One could argue that Christina and other old saints were the superheroes of medieval culture.

There’s an article at Salon today ("Amma’s Cosmic Squeeze") about an Indian guru/saint/goddess named Amma, who is known for being a really good hugger.

From the article:

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…Amma hugs on a truly global scale, exhibiting a spiritual athleticism that boggles the mind. As the loudspeakers that surround the main meeting hall of the M.A. Center are happy to announce, Amma has hugged more than 26 million people. During her massive 50th birthday celebration in 2003, which was inaugurated by the Indian President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Amma cranked through a stadium full of devotees for 21 hours straight while a scoreboard racked up numbers well into the five figures.

The lead-in for the article identifies her as "Amma, the Hugging Saint." As far as saintly nicknames go, that’s a good one. It’s cuddly and happy and makes me smile. Not quite as awe-inspiring as "Christina the Astonishing," but then again, Amma will hug you instead of levitating away from your foul-smelling iniquity. Sure, the saintly Amma may be Hindu, but I’d much rather hang out with her than Christina Mirabilis, who likely would end up pinching her nose and gagging while she floats away from me.

I think there’s a lesson there for all of us trying to be, if not saints, then at least faithful followers of Jesus. It’s this: Compassion and human contact beats sin-averse weirdness every day.

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