One of the gifts of the spiritual program outlined in the Twelve Steps, is the possibility of constant renewal, peeling away layer after layer of my personal onion. This is one such story.
I have long had an ambivalent relationship with the Blessed Apostle, my sainted namesake. In Sunday School, if the teacher mentioned Paul’s letter to, say, the Romans, the other kids would point and giggle, “You don’t know any Romans!” And I would flush with shame.
As an adolescent struggling to understand my sexuality, the religious milieu of Pauline purity codes and predestination created an enormous amount of inner conflict and anxiety. This combination caused me to pursue a long list of accomplishments, hoping to prove my worth as a person while distracting the eyes of the world…and of God.
So, fast forward to January 25th of this year, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. It’s a day that I have observed but had never really celebrated. This year was different.
Several months ago, a friend had introduced me to a prayer app that takes the form of a guided meditation; it is produced by British Jesuits. The reading is heard twice, with questions offered as points of meditation during the musical interludes. I’ve grown attached to this method, adding it to my morning routine of readings from program literature.
The reading was the familiar story from Acts 9 about Paul on the Road to Damascus. After the first hearing, the guide talked about Paul and his credentials of being righteous before God.
Then the guide said something like, “Are there moments when you feel the need to get beyond those ‘externals;’ and deal with the real person behind them? How might doing that change my life and my attitude to other people?”
And suddenly that morning, what felt like a thick layer of my onion was peeled away, and I heard myself thinking, “Paul’s credentials are important – until they’re not. Maybe they kept him looking in the wrong direction. The horse, the brilliant light, the bottom, the blindness, the help of others.” For the first time, I was able to stop comparing. This was a story I knew in my own body.
I listened with different ears to the second reading. Then, the guide asked, “Is there a direct and personal dialogue that you want to have with Jesus, right now?”
And the words that popped out of my mouth were, “Thank you for saving my ass!” And I took a deep breath, thinking that was that. But it wasn’t over. The conversation between Jesus and me continued.
“Why are you persecuting me?”
“Who was I persecuting?”
“You were persecuting me -the one who made you to be who you are. Stop hiding behind all those walls of credentials. Just be you.”
That’s a lot for 12 minutes of a Friday morning! What does it all mean? How might learning to deal with the real me, so long laden with externals, be? How might it continue to change my life and how I see those around me? Today, I don’t know. But I do have faith that, if I continue to listen with the ears of my heart, more will be revealed.
February 20, 2019