One of the things that is most fascinating about the bible is that throughout the entire text there is a duality of meaning that constantly leads one to think about reality in a way that turns familiar things on their collective head. There are images like; one must die to live, have nothing to be wealthy, descend to rise, surrender to be free, find hope in disappointment. There is an important image, though, that appears in the bible over and over and that’s the image of light. That, too, has its contradictions.
There is nothing stronger, in the scripture, than the reference to light. This is especially true for occurrences like Jesus’ Birth, the Transfiguration the Resurrection and even the conversion of Saul. All of these “illuminating moments, though have an opposite side. If you think about light we know that it can be experienced as a paradox. Have you ever stepped into the bright light of day after being in a dark space or been the “victim” of a camera flash or stood on a stage while having the klieg lights full in your face? In all of these cases the light actually causes one to be blind. None of these “bright light” experiences illuminates at first. T hey all leave one unable to see, at least for a moment or two.
So how does this all too human, earthly experience relate to the state of our own personal spirituality? In the bible, light is perhaps the ultimate expression of God’s divinity. We know that his first handiwork of creation were the light’s of heaven, the sun and the moon. When earth was conceived it was bathed in the presence of glorious light and Jesus resurrection is accomplished to the accompaniment of a flash of blinding light, the only way that the image on the Shroud could have been formed, the experts tells us. Light is power and illumination, warmth and hope all rolled into one. So, humanly, we might expect any experience of light to be a good and comfortable thing but we know that is not the case. Sometimes light is a painful and confusing experience. In our oh too typical rush to judgment we instantly interpret a potent experience to be a bad thing. We have phrases in the culture like “blinded by the light”. No doubt this is a long perpetuated phrase that comes directly from Acts 9 and the conversion of Saul who was indeed blinded by the light! Our modern society, though, teaches to avoid anything unpleasant at all cost and to respond to all things that are difficult or scary or uncomfortable by side stepping the situation! In other words, spirituality that has absolutely no unpleasant moments. Only the “happy-slappy times” as a friend of mine put it! After all, a truly “loving” God wouldn’t send us any “bad stuff”. If we look at Saul’s action’s though there is a broader perspective that we might learn from.
“On his journey, as Saul was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He [Saul] said, ‘Who are you sir?’” (Acts 9:3-7) Yikes, not only did Saul receive a crazy moment of light from nowhere but he also began hearing voices and was instantly blinded. Saul’s reaction, though, almost makes me laugh. In a moment of total confusion and God knows what else going on, Saul chooses to call whoever is there; “Sir”. He does not swear an oath or beg for mercy or draw a weapon or issue a threat. Remember he was on the Damascus Road for the purpose of killing and maiming new members of “The Way”. He even had a letter from the high priest giving him permission to accomplish this. He was on a holy journey, wasn’t he? In this unearthly situation Saul does not try to get away or be aggressive or avoid anything. He opens his mind and heart and expresses curiosity plain and simple. In another extraordinary act he then is lead to a stranger’s house while totally blind. For three additional days he does not complain nor lament but fasts from food and water. Eventually he allows a different stranger to pray on him. Saul had the resources and power to return to Jerusalem and consult the finest doctors about his blindness but that is not what he did.
Even in his sinful state of being, fixed on murder and mayhem Saul had the sense to recognize that something extraordinary was happening to him. Rather than greeting the situation with rage and hostility he was able to “go with the flow”. His “light blindness” led him to an astounding transformation. In the extreme of a crazy, unexplainable situation Saul was made new, literally. No doubt is was not a pleasant or safe feeling for him when he became instantly blind. The blindness, though, blossomed into creating the man who would change the world, literally. Saul became Paul, the apostle to the gentiles and the man chiefly responsible for the establishment of “The Way” in the continents of Asia and Africa and then the world. His transformation was so startling that when he began preaching Jesus as God, no one believed that it was the same man. Many said things like: this is not possible, he was on his way to kill those disciples. In the towns where he initially arrived, Christians hid because they thought that he was there to kill them. People feared his preaching. God writes straight with crooked lines.
St. Paul’s conversion experience clearly shows that in the life of the believer, God is always present, even when it seems to be a clear disaster. The last time you were surprised by a horrendous situation how did you react? Was there fear, bitterness, anger or resentment at God? Where you ever blinded by the light of truth or caught up in something that you could only perceive as awful? To our great benefit Paul did not react this way during one of the most frightening experiences of his life. When you are blindsided, or plunged into a situation that only raises fear in you, consider Paul. Where’s the learning in the situation, or the opportunity for total transformation that is being handed you? Next time you are blinded by the light ask the Lord what he has in store for you. Don’t let your emotions cheat you out of the new vision that the Lord has planned for you.
Copyright © 2012 , Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved
Check out more of Kathryn’s thinking @ www.atravelersview.org
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