Thoughts on the Conversion of St Paul

Carol Backhouse, current senior student at Westcott House and all-around legend, shared some of her meditations today, the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul:

Acts 9.1-22. Matthew 19.27-30

Let’s fast forward seven months. Or nineteen months. Or thirty one months. It’s a Monday morning, and you’re heading for morning prayer at your new shiny parish church, wearing your new shiny dog collar. You come around a bend in the road, and you see a small car ahead of you, complete with boy-racer stripes and souped up alloys. And the car is wrapped around a lamp post.

So you stop, and you go over to help. You go to the quietest victim, and open his airway. You’re relieved to watch his chest rise and fall as he starts breathing again. So you phone for an ambulance, and wait on the side of the road, saying a very different morning prayer to the one in the red book.

Later that day, you visit the local hospital to see how that young lad is getting on. He can’t remember anything that happened, and knows only that he will not be able to walk again. His life has changed beyond anything he could imagine. He’s no idea what the future will hold, and is dreading the moment when he sees his Mum and Dad again. He is scared, and seems to have aged ten years. Yet he’s glad to be alive.

Let’s fast forward a few months. You keep in touch with the young lad, as he makes his way out of hospital, through a rehabilitation unit, and starts a retraining programme that will enable him to work. You get to know his family, his Mum, his Dad, the girlfriend. You listen to all of them, as they chew over their anger and fear, their frustration and their guilt. You hear of the milestones and the miracles, and share in the joy and the regret. The new shiny dog collar becomes worn and scuffed, and you still travel that road wary what you will find on that corner.

I find it difficult to relate to Paul’s dramatic Damascus moment. I have more sympathy for Ananias, the spiritual first responder who brings first aid, prayer and comfort, and who tries to put this life-changing moment into some sort of context. I wonder whether Ananias and Paul stayed friends in later years, whether Ananias continued as Paul’s spiritual director.

It strikes me that we’re more likely to encounter Ananias moments than Damascus moments in our own lives. It strikes me that ministry is having the faith and hope that we too can be Ananias to people like Paul who experience life-changing transformations. Ananias converts the situation into one where Jesus can continue to speak into Paul’s life and work, where Jesus can continue to be present in Paul’s life so that Paul knows him as a friend, a companion; God incarnate.

We can be like Ananias, who responded to God’s call to speak good news to a man who would have killed him for his Christian faith. We can be like Ananias, who calls Paul his brother and makes him welcome despite his misgivings. We can be like Ananias who offers Paul baptism, food, healing and sight. We can be like Ananias who encourages Paul to go out and preach good news.

Ananias’ compassion and courage, those few words and deeds, will continue to transform and nourish Paul for the rest of his life. Without Ananias as the spiritual first responder, would Paul have gone one to such a stellar ministry? Ananias’ words have far-reaching effects: every single day Paul will know the impact which such courageous care and compassion can have on a life, and Paul will seek to repeat this care and compassion as he ministers to the fledgling church.

We may not encounter many Damascus moments. But our constant compassion and care enable us to be Ananias to other Pauls, to enable God’s good news of transformation to be constantly heard in the lives of those we minister to. Amen.

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