“Conversion happens in the spaces between events.”
How I love spending time in the Word with Sister Macrina! Today, using her book Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God, I meditate on the conversion story of the apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, as written in Acts 9.
Saul, a persecutor of Christians, is on the road between Jerusalem and Damascus. He’s met with the high priest of Jerusalem, and asked for letters of support to the synagogues in Damascus, so that he can more easily root out Christians in that city. His plan is to bind these rebels and haul them back to Jerusalem to be stoned or crucified. Passion is Saul’s middle name.
But on that road, in that in-between place—in between cities and in between who Saul is and the Paul he will become, the Lord shows up. He shows up as a blinding light and a disembodied voice, knocking Saul to the ground, crying, “Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asks.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Saul arises, stone blind. Someone has to lead him into the city of Damascus, “And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
Paul’s story sounds strangely familiar. It fits in perfectly with a story I was reading last night before going to bed, Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Rohr writes that the first half of life is taken up with building an ego structure, finding our way in the world, making money, accumulating possessions and finding security. In the second half of life, we are invited to answer a call to leave home and all that’s familiar for an adventure; to find our True Self, the person God created us to be. This is the Hero’s Journey, found throughout all of the world’s great literature.
Rohr writes, “On this journey or adventure, they in fact find their real problem! They are almost always “wounded” in some way and encounter a major dilemma, and the whole story largely pivots around the resolution of the trials that result. There is always a wounding; and the great epiphany is that the wound becomes the secret key, even “sacred,” a wound that changes them dramatically, which, by the way, is the precise meaning of the wounds of Jesus!”
As I sit in the quiet today, I am overcome with the interweaving of these two stories—the story of Paul’s conversion, and the Hero’s Journey of which Rohr writes—with my story!
I am on a road between the sleeping beauty I once was, and the wide-awake woman I’m becoming, kissed awake in my 30’s by the breath of God. I travel a road between the childless young woman I once was, and the woman I’m getting used to being—the mother of three grown sons. I walk the road between being a daughter and contemplating motherlessness as my mother loses her memory. I journey a road that stretches between full-time caregiving for my son with autism, and learning to let him walk the road of his own life. I am on the road between fear and trust; between self-loathing and self-acceptance; between the glass half-empty and the glass overflowing.
There are many wounds suffered in these in-between places, and yet, “…the great epiphany is that the wound becomes the secret key, even “sacred,” a wound that changes (us) dramatically.”
I think of the last two years, and how I literally traveled the road between Cincinnati and Oxford on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. In between houses, in between friends, in between family, in between lives.
On the road to Damascus, Jesus issued a clear invitation to Saul. “Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
I think of how God issued an invitation for us to move here—to Cloudland, to a new city, a new church, a new life, a new ministry.
Macrina writes that Paul “had been led to the deepening places. He was learning to trust in new ways. He was being fed from within. He had tasted the sorrow and joy of transformation. The voice he heard on the road to Damascus still echoed in his soul. He was being emptied of himself, and thus set free. His was a freedom he had never experienced. He had to taste that freedom in the darkness of trust rather than the light of sight.”
When I feel as if I’m walking in the dark, stone blind to all of the good that is happening around me, I will remember Paul’s story. I will remember that I am on a Hero’s journey. I will remember that in these in-between places, conversion is occurring.