CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL January 25
1. Each morning help me pray
"Lord, lead me on your way
And teach me to remember your surprises,"
like Paul, who thought he knew
all doctrines that were true
until he saw the Lord before him rising.
2. The vision he received
changed all that Paul believed.
He fell through darkness, needing one to guide him.
Light he hated shone;
reborn he saw the one,
Christ Jesus standing in the way beside him.
3. Lord, overcome my will. I'm stopped and standing still
as all my tangled webs and ways unravel.
I stand here bound and caught;
I'm sinful, lost in thought.
Lord, show the way that you would have me travel.
4. Your word is true and just;
help me to always trust.
You are the truth, you showed me by your rising.
Pray help me do the right;
Lord, lead me to your light.
To follow you is joyful and surprising.
Text: Gracia Grindal Copyright © 2015 Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc.
The conversion of St. Paul is the end of the week, the Octave, of Christian Unity, begun with the Confession of St. Peter. St. Paul, first Saul of Tarsus, is a difficult saint, like Peter. He started out as a fanatic persecuter of Christians—he holds the coats of those who were stoning St. Stephen--and ended up as the one whose letters to the churches shaped early Christianity more than any other apostle. Deeply educated in the Law and a Pharisee of Pharisees, he knew as much as any disciple about the Jewishness of Jesus and how to interpret it in terms of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
His experience on the way to Damascus when he is struck by the light and falls from his horse, blinded by the light, lives in the expression “road to Damascus.” Many who have never read the Bible use that expression to describe a moment in which everything they thought before was changed and they were turned around utterly.
It is what conversion means in Greek—metanoia—to be turned around. People who have suffered dramatic conversions talk about how this turning around changed everything in their lives.
I have often wondered how Paul must have felt just after he could see again. To suddenly have everything you stood for, fought for and even killed for, be taken from you, and a new way what you are to follow, would be if nothing else a surprise.
Paul’s conversion is paradigmatically the life of all Christians: we have to die to the old and be raised up in the new in order to follow Jesus. Peter leaves his career as a fisherman and follows Jesus. When he gets ahead of him, Jesus said, Get behind me, Satan.
Paul’s knowledge of the Torah made it possible for him to see his Jewish faith the light of his new faith. Romans 9-11 shows him struggling with the problem of the relationship of the Old Covenant to the New.
Paul was a bit irascible, and difficult. What he has to say about women in the church—as in keep silent, set next to Galatians 3: 28, in his glorious epistle of freedom, have caused barrels of ink to be spilled by biblical scholars as to what he finally has to say about women and their place in the church. On the other hand, the soaring rhetoric of Romans 8 and his love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, fills one’s heart with joy and assurance of God’s purposes in our lives of faith.
He was martyred in Rome, Paul’s symbol is the open Bible pierced by a sword. A tomb was found in 2002 beside the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls near Rome, a church Constantine built after his conversion. In June 2009, Pope Benedict and the Vatican declared the remains were those of Saint Paul.
Here I used the idea of the surprise of Saint Paul to describe the Christian life. The hymn by William Cowper, "Sometimes a Light Surprises the Christian while he Sings" was in my mind of course. The meter is an odd one, but it brought into my mind rhymes that made the hymn more fun. Rhyme creates a poetic "emergency," scholars say. So using the word "surprises" which needs a rhyme for the form to be correct, gave me some new connections with words that made the hymn a revelation to me.