Reflections on the Conversion of Paul

Towards the end of January we were invited to celebrate the conversion of St Paul. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) appoints a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles 9:1-22 which describes Paul (then known as Saul) on the road to Damascus. He was not on this road by coincidence; he was not out taking the air or exercising, but was embarked on a journey specifically to seek out “any of this way”, by which of course he meant Christians, with the intention of bringing them “bound unto Jerusalem”. We are left to ponder as to what fate would have awaited our brothers and sisters upon their arrival; I think it fair to conclude that their welcome would not have been a hospitable one since we know that Saul was deeply hostile to Christians.

As he travels the road “suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven”; so bright in fact that he was blinded and brought to his knees, whereupon he heard a voice – the voice of Jesus. After this, still blinded but with the assistance of his fellow travellers, he followed Jesus’ instructions, and continued on his journey.

Meanwhile, the Lord is busy giving instructions in a vision to his disciple Ananias: that he should visit Saul and by touching him restore his sight. Now Ananias was skeptical, for Saul clearly had a reputation, but the Lord explained that Saul was “a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles”; so off he went to carry out the Lord’s instructions.

And so it came to pass that Ananias found Saul in Damascus, and he restored him of his sight as the Lord had commanded. Saul was “filled with the Holy Ghost” and “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God”. Saul had become Paul.

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An Accidental Crusoe

As a child you probably learned the story of Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist in the novel commonly known by that name, written at the beginning of the 18th century by author Daniel Defoe. The full title of the book hardly trips off the tongue, “The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an Uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, Near the Mouth of the Great River Oroonoque; Have Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, Wherein all the Men Perished but Himself, With an Account how he was at Last Strangely Delivered by Pirates”; but it is at least instructive of the central theme of the story: that Crusoe found himself “all alone in an uninhabited island”.

In these present times, living with the restrictions imposed to try and repel the threat of Covid, many of us will have felt alone, cut off from most of life’s social interactions that we had taken so much for granted; and our homes, which once played host to visiting friends and family coming from near and far, have become their own uninhabited islands. What then might we learn from the story of Crusoe, as he grappled with circumstances recognisable to us?

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