Sunday, January 26, 2014

Paul's Epiphany

The Conversion of Paul, evening reading
A couple of weeks ago I saw two pictures that really caught my attention.  One was a painting by the eminent Chinese painter He Qi entitled Calling St. Paul . Like all He Qi's paintings, it is full of color and unexpected angles, but what arrested me was Paul turning around to see a bright light that blinded him. I'd always thought of Paul as seeing the light in front of him, but after seeing this, I can see that it was more than a spiritual turning around that he had to do, it was very much a physical turning around. The second picture was a photograph by Mario Gerth from a series shot in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia. It is called "It Could Be Moses, Right?" but it reminds me of Paul as well. Paul did a lot of journeying, and this one could have been a vision of what difficult terrain, physical and spiritual, he would have to traverse.
Paul had a major epiphany, a sudden "AHA!" moment, where in the blink of an eye everything seems to turn around. It wasn't without cost, however. For three days he could see nothing, he was helpless and at the mercy of others just as early followers of Jesus had been at his mercy but with very different results. Usually with an epiphany a person sees things in a different way but with Paul, he saw nothing at all once that bright light had struck his eyes. His ears still worked, as did those who were with him, and what he heard changed his life totally. He spent three days in darkness, not eating or drinking but probably doing a lot of thinking and, perhaps, praying. Evidently he had reached some conclusion because at the end of three days, another vision of Jesus came to him, this time with Paul responding with the traditional formula used by those called by God throughout the Hebrew Bible, "Here I am, Lord." The three days of blindness and silence was also symbolic, reminiscent of Jesus' three days in the tomb.
Epiphanies don't always come as blinding flashes of light that can knock a person off their donkey (and it's all I can do to keep from adding "and on their ***") like Paul. Some of the most profound can be simple everyday things that happen that have about the same result as the famous "Wow! I coulda had a V-8!" slap on the forehead at the realization that something has either given rise to a change or resulted in a change itself. Every great idea for an invention or the latest, greatest novel or the movement that changes the world probably began as a small epiphany and grew from there, but even the tiniest ones, personal ones, are important. I think of them as little God-flashes that come through the static of my everyday life, letting me know that there is more to life than me or what I'm doing on my own.
When Ananias came to heal Paul, he did it with great reluctance, given Paul's history and the reputation he had. Still, Ananias went because it was his duty to go; God said so. Perhaps once he saw the result of Paul's experience on Paul himself, Ananias may have had a small epiphany that the healing he was helping with was going to result in great things for God, but maybe, he saw that even the most feared of enemies can be as helpless as babies and need help. That would have been an important epiphany in and of itself.

Years ago I spent a lot of time searching for and finding little epiphanies in everyday life. It surprised me at how many I encountered, if I really looked for them and was open to their being revealed. I never got a call to go and heal someone of blindness but I learned to see even people that I perceived as enemies (of whatever kind, personal or corporate) as having moments of weakness. I saw Jesus in a homeless man pushing his rusty grocery cart piled with boxes and bags that represented his entire worldly wealth. I began to see silence as a great communication tool, allowing me to hear God more clearly and others as well. There were so many little things that I now seem to take for granted or overlook entirely.
Perhaps this reading is a kind of epiphany for me that it is time to start looking again for those little God-moments where I least expect them. If an epiphany can change an enemy of Jesus' followers into a person who almost singlehandedly built the Christian church, what can they do for just an ordinary person like me? That may be my greatest epiphany of all.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, January 25, 2014, under the title, "The Conversion of Paul."

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