“Discovering a New Path” by Lisle Gwynn Garrity | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org
Weekly Bible Devotional
“Unraveled: Discovering a New Path”
August 2, 2020
Fear is a powerful motivator for action! It is one of our basic instincts for survival. We especially fear what we don’t know or what we perceive to be a threat. Politicians, fundraisers, newscasters, advertisers, and even religious leaders know the power of fear and often use it to their advantage. In this time of pandemic and racial tensions, fear is taking center stage in our world. And so this week we look at a man who was strongly motivated by fear. He was full of fear and anger and thus became willing to inflict fear and violence on others to protect what he thought to be the right way of faith. This is the story of the Apostle Paul (who was first known as Saul) who was motivated by fear until God unraveled his vision and understanding of life and the world. As a result, he discovered a new path forward.
I hope that the reflections below from “A Sanctified Art” will inspire and challenge you to embrace God’s way of love to discover new paths forward.
Scripture for this Sunday: Acts 9:1-19
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
In a flash in the middle of the road, God unravels Saul’s identity as a persecutor of Christ-followers and invites him to blindly stumble onto a new path. His conversion requires Ananias, a disciple vulnerable to Paul’s threats, to place his hands on Saul’s eyes so that he might see the world anew as Paul the Apostle.
This new path for Paul later leads him to endure prison, persecution, travel, and trial. However, it also comes with new life, community, belonging, and hope. Sometimes God calls us into uncharted territory, and maybe our unraveling is simply a holy, fresh start.
What Has Unraveled and/or Is Unraveling?
• Saul’s life, identity, and worldview as a persecutor of early Christians.
• Saul’s understanding of the resurrected Christ.
• Ananias’ perceptions of what the family of God looks like.
• Our first introductions to Saul come in Acts 7:58 and Acts 8:2-3. Why do you imagine Saul is motivated to persecute the early Christians? How does he participate in these acts of persecution and murder?
• Saul is transformed from an enemy to a brother, a persecutor to a “chosen instrument” called particularly to welcome Gentiles into the fold. In this story, what events and elements fulfill his conversion?
• Few people have experienced a radical transformation such as Saul’s conversion to Paul. However, many of us may relate to Ananias’ conversion experience. Where do you see the grace of God softening enemies with closeness and connection?
Quote for Inspiration:
Hans Mol in Identity and the Sacred describes the following steps within the conversion process:
• Detachment from former patterns of identity
• A time of meaninglessness and anomie
• A dramatic transition from darkness to light, from chaos to meaning
• The faith community supports and accepts the initiate into their life together
Here are a few examples of modern-day conversions:
• Christian Picciolini’s transformation from a white supremacist, neo-Nazi to a producer, author, and speaker countering racism and extremism. View his Ted Talk, “My Descent into America’s Neo-Nazi Movement And How I Got Out,” here: https://ed.ted.com/lessons/my-descent-into-america-s-neo-nazi-movement-and-how-i-got-out-christian-picciolini.
• Megan Phelps-Roper’s transformation from a member of the Westboro Baptist Church to a writer and educator on bullying, extremism, and empathy. View her Ted Talk, “I Grew Up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here is Why I Left,” here: https://www.ted.com/talks/megan_phelps_roper_i_grew_up_in_the_westboro_baptist_church_here_s_why_i_left.
Read this article by Beth Scibienski about all the conversions occurring in this story: “Not Just Saul’s Story.” Published on bethscib.com. April 9, 2013.
From the artist // Lisle Gwynn Garrity:
Saul doesn’t just persecute Jesus’ followers, he breathes threats and murder. His hatred fumes out of him like fire, perhaps a fire tended by fear—fear that his Jewish tradition will become impure or distorted, fear that the walls he’s built around who’s in and out will crumble, fear that his own hard-earned piety will diminish. He’s a force of terror, sculpted by self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. He’s a religious extremist not so unlike the ones we know of today. Until God smacks him down, pulling his sight and self-reliance out from under him like a rug. God softens Saul’s steely heart by forcing him to confront those whom he harms, and by making him utterly dependent on relationship and others to survive. Perhaps Saul’s conversion is ultimately a radical healing—God soothes his fear and hatred with empathy and intimacy. But this isn’t just a story about Saul’s transformation. His companions on the road to Damascus are changed too, as they hear the voice of the risen Christ and escort a stumbling Saul to the city. Ananias’ conversion is the most courageous of them all. He risks everything, including his own life, to come close to one with the power to have him stoned. Only in the moments when Ananias’ fingers touch Saul’s eyes, does Saul see, for the first time, the image of the divine in one who is not his enemy, but his brother. In this image, a halo hovers around the hand of Ananias, nodding to the sacred courage required to melt the hatred of his oppressor with intimacy and connection. Scales pour out of Saul’s eyes, purging him, cleansing him, igniting him with a new and particular mission: to pour out God’s grace wherever humans try to limit it.
Take a few moments to gaze upon the artwork. Breathe deeply in quiet meditation as you observe the visual qualities of what you see: color, line, texture, movement, shape, form. Now take a deeper look. What parts of the image are your eyes most drawn to? What parts of the image did you overlook? Now engage your imagination. What story do you imagine for the figure?
– What has unraveled and/or is unraveling in this story?
– In this story, what events and elements fulfill Paul’s conversion?
– Throughout your life, what identities, beliefs, or practices have you shed? How has unraveling from former patterns and identities helped you to grow or become more whole?
Imagine you are Ananias. If God came to you in a vision and asked you to offer grace and belonging to someone you perceive as an enemy or threat, who would that person be and how would you respond? In the space below, write a letter addressed to this person, practicing the challenge of offering radical grace.
Unravel my assumptions and animosities so that I might become a vessel of your radical grace. Amen