[This image comes from Westminister Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, MN. I have always loved their full balcony in the round.]
Yesterday, I encountered a beautiful quote in a meme that was being passed around. Take this in and know that it’s true for you:
“Suddenly, all my ancestors are behind me.
‘Be still,’ they say.
‘Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.’”
I love those sacred words from author Linda Hogan. They’re certainly beautiful and worthy of being shared.
It’s also true. We are the result of the love of thousands — each one of us. We are connected to our biological ancestors, and we are connected to a host of individuals who have formed us over time. As Fred Rogers used to say, these people have “loved us into being.” We could also say that they have particularlized us — that is, they have made us more specifically who we are simply and powerfully because they lived and loved.
David Roth was my pastor growing up, and he was deeply influential upon my life. On a number of occasions, I remember him using the language of ‘Balcony People’ to talk about those who have gone before us in this way. That term comes from Balcony People, a book by Joyce Landorf Heatherly. She discusses the importance of being in relationship with people who encourage and affirm us. David often extended this term to talk about the Communion of Saints. He himself is one my many Balcony People.
Today is All Saints Day. On this day each year, I always think about a particular memory concerning David. It took place more than a year after he died.
Believe it or not, my car still plays cassette tapes (yes, I know. . . ) On a particular day in April 2010, I was driving around Austin, Texas, and I decided to listen to one of David Roth’s sermon tapes.
It was the last sermon he gave at my home church, and it took place on the day he retired. In the middle of this sermon, he began to talk about his Balcony People and named a litany of individuals and communities which had shaped his life in the Church. At one point, he said,
“They all participated in giving me birth, as there are people here who even now, participate in giving all of us birth, re-birth. . . Christ has told us that wherever we are, even if we think we’re all alone, as the Apostle Paul at times felt all alone, we are surrounded by so Great a Cloud of Witnesses. I never come to this communion table — never! — without feeling surrounded by the ‘Balcony People.’”
As you can imagine, it moved me so deeply to hear David Roth speak these words in his own voice after we had painfully lost him to a cancer diagnosis. Even beyond death, he still speaks. He is a Balcony Person for sure. Quite intentionally, I think of him and my other Balcony People every time I come to that communion table.
So consider your Balcony today.
- Who has loved you into being?
- Who still speaks?
- Who cheers you on with encouragement – perhaps beyond you in time, yet so near to you in the present?
Also, here’s another story about David which means a lot to me.