Meditation for Morning Prayer
January 28, 2014
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2014 ended three days ago on January 25, as it always does, the day set aside in the church calendar to commemorate the Conversion of St. Paul. Since the 25th fell on a Saturday this year, we are transferring our on-campus celebration to today, Tuesday, January 28, in our Morning Prayer.
The following prayer for this occasion sounds the theme for today’s songs, scripture reading, and my meditation.
O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture readings: Acts of the Apostles 26:9-21 and Galatians 1:11-24
Whatever we make of the Conversion of St. Paul, it involves travel. “I was travelling to Damascus,” Paul tells King Agrippa (Acts 26:12). But there’s travel and then there’s travel. Two trips, two journeys, may feel completely different depending on what existential energy or mood we bring to our travel.
Six years ago, I was on a 3+ hour red-eye flight from Seattle to Minneapolis-St. Paul, as soon as I received the news that my daughter had given birth to a son, my first grandson, but that as she was going into labor, they discovered a brain aneurysm behind her right eye. I did not sleep a wink on the plane; I was playing out in my mind all the possible scenarios I might discover when I arrived. Would she still be alive? Would she be incapacitated ? How would her husband, who at that point did not yet have his green card, be able to support the little family. Would he be able to stay in this country? Would he choose to stay in this country? And what of the day-old grandson, what lay in store for him? During that trip, I was consumed with fear about the future. [My grandson is now a sunny, beautiful six-year old; my daughter’s aneurysm has been repaired surgically and she’s finishing a masters degree; my son-in-law is pastoring a pair of Hispanic Episcopal mission congregations.]
How different from the trip I make with my wife every year or so from the city of Sonoma, in California, to a favorite vacation spot at The Sea Ranch on the coast! This second journey is one of ever increasing anticipation and joy. We know all the landmarks and count them off. Crossing under U.S. Highway 101 and passing from city to country. Oh joy! We’re in Guerneville, the last major town. There’s the final stand of redwoods. There goes the last vineyard. The Russian River broadens and its banks flatten to nothing. And then we make the sharp right turn just before Jenner and see the Pacific Ocean for the first time: the first waves, the first sea lion on the first sandbar. The air gets cooler, the smell changes and becomes fragrant with the luxury of a week on the coast. And, finally, the outliers of the cedar fencing that marks The Sea Ranch. Joy and peace growing exponentially with each mile.
And there was that ten minute walk across campus two weeks ago. A trip meant to provide a tiny slice of time out of time – no agenda, no destination, other than to be out of the office and away from the preceding six hours of work and stalling, just for a moment, the next four hours at my desk.
Paul was travelling to Damascus. We know from this morning’s scripture that he was “furiously enraged” at the first Christian believers; that he was utterly “convinced” of the rightness of her cause – persecution; and utterly unconcerned about the people against whom he was committing deadly violence (Acts 26:9-12). Then the light from the sky; the fall to the ground and the voice of Jesus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (26:13-14)
I am intrigued by Paul’s subsequent travels, his next several trips: according to Galatians first to Arabia, then toward Damascus again, only later back to Jerusalem from whence he came, then on to Judea, Syria, and Cilicia. What existential energy or mood did he bring to those travels and how where they different, how was he different, from that interrupted journey to Damascus? Again, scripture tells us that Saul, now Paul, was “proclaiming [what] he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23). On the initial trip to Damascus, Paul could see nothing beyond his own righteous cause, blinded as he was by fury. On subsequent travels, he had become attentive, deeply attentive to another person outside of himself, Jesus, who kept appearing to Paul under multiple guises: now the cause is “to serve and testify to the things in which you [Paul] have seen me [Jesus] and to those in which I will appear to you” (Acts 26:16).
We are all travelling this morning; travelling our life journeys; travelling through this world.
I wonder what your travel feels like, from the inside, with what existential energy or mood, in light of the story of Paul’s conversion?
I wonder if you are being invited to nurture something or someone you once tried to destroy or diminish?
And I wonder if there is an invitation to you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen Jesus and to those in which Jesus has yet to appear to you?
~ Mark Lloyd Taylor, Ph.D.