To use the name of a Saint generally evokes images of holy men and women of the Catholic church, dressed in flowing robes and surrounded by an oil-painted aura. There are patron saints-those with a sort of specialized divinity-of bakers and bellmakers, orphans and pawnbrokers, soldiers and snake bites, soldiers and writers. Each is a Catholic who lived a life deemed particularly holy and was named, postmortem, by the Pope to sainthood. This construct, I find, is something of an empty set of ideas. The process of canonization is one notorious for its pecuniary nature and tendencies toward corruption. What kind of hope, then, can one possibly be offered by a long-dead person so chosen? Perhaps the kind of sainthood I can accept is much more a secular one. This is, I think, the order of sainthood of author Alice Walker's invention.
In her essay "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," Walker ponders the histories and legacies of black American women who found, somehow, even in the bondage of slavery, an inextinguishable need and ability to create. Walker refers to these women not as slaves, or Africans, or Americans, or even women-she calls them saints: "these crazy saints stared out on the world, wildly, like lunatics..." (Walker 695). I'd read the essay twice before I began to understand the resonance of Walker's choice of words. Walker's women are saints not because they were named by the pope after the documentation of two miracles of their performance and the paying of the appropriate bishops-but because of the way they looked at the world...perhaps with the special clarity of lunacy.
The dictionary says a saint is "a person officially recognized as being entitled to public ...
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...k is the survival of inhumanity and brutality. She not only survives enslavement, but emerges with her back straight and her head high-not a feat accomplishable by many. Perhaps her ability to do so serves better in the establishment of sainthood than any from-the-grave miracle documented by the pope.
So perhaps neither is Walker writing truly about gardening nor Jacobs about her adolescence. They are both speaking to the nature of sainthood-the sainthood of artists. Their work is our evidence that saints needn't be implored or opportuned for guidance-because the spiritual broadcasting of this direction is inherent in what makes them women, artists, and Saints. Their power is our reminder of the power and beauty of art-of creation. The hope that their genius and mastery exude is the flame which keeps ignited the sparks of creation fundamental to humanity.
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