December 31, 2013
I awoke early this morning, around 5:00 AM, this day that wraps up the old year and presages the new. It was still a beautiful winter night – pitch black, zero degrees, crystal clear, snow covering the ground. Both nighttime and morning.
I awoke to thoughts of the Apostle Paul dancing in my head. Paul is a touchstone for me – an obstreperous man of strong convictions, a persecutor of the new Christians, he was one of the watchers at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7: 57-60) – the first Christian to be killed for his faith. As Acts 7:58 says, “The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul” [who becomes Paul]. Acts 8:1 continues, “Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.”
And then everything changes.
In Acts 9, he is “still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples… [But]… During the journey, as he approached Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven encircled him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?’ Saul asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are harassing,’ came the reply. ‘Now get up and enter the city. You will be told what you must do.’ Those traveling with him stood there speechless; they heard the voice but saw no one. After they picked Saul up from the ground, he opened his eyes but he couldn’t see. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and neither ate nor drank anything.” (Acts 9: 1-9)
As he gradually adapts to and inhabits his new life – doing “what you must do” – Paul travels throughout Asia Minor and Europe, establishing new communities of Jesus followers among the “Gentiles,” the non-Jewish peoples of Greek culture and religion.
From being a watcher of Stephen’s murder, Paul becomes a planter of tiny seeds of communities and writings from which the transforming word of Christ spread throughout the western world.
Like Paul, I have been caught up – converted into a new person, even – by something vastly bigger and more powerful than I. Like Paul, I have been told what to do – to tell my story and why it matters to conserving the Earth.
Despite an understanding of God that doesn’t conceive of “God” as anything remotely like a person or a being who speaks, nevertheless “God” does speak. There is an unspeakable and irresistible realness to this, regardless of how improbable or even impossible it seems. It may not be possible, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
The Bible doesn’t tell us about Paul’s doubts and fears, but I am sure he had them. He did as he had been told anyway. Notwithstanding the doubts and fear, I am trying to do the same.