Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Paul: Caught off guard

The feast of the Conversion of St. Paul is always a good occasion to reflect on that mystery of grace--not just in Paul's life, of course, but in ours. What is happening when God seems to "break through" to us in a life-changing way? The funny thing is, I think, the way I assume it is God "breaking through" at some point, rather than me finally being alert enough (or more likely, free enough) to pay attention.
Maybe on the road to Damascus, the ever-alert Saul had been able to let go of the reins a bit himself. Up to their departure from Jerusalem, I can see him in total control mode, overseeing every detail of the squad and their plans to enter Damascus and round up the Jesus believers. But once they actually hit the road, there wasn't much he could do except sway with the camel (or the horse, or his own careful footsteps). God had been at Saul's interior doorstep (actually, in his interior castle, to borrow Teresa of Avila's expression), but it was only when the quiet rhythm and sway of those steps had entered Saul's heart that he ceased "kicking against the goad" and finally heard those words that he would never forget.
Since this month I am especially researching and reading about the liturgy, it was only natural for me to think of this in somewhat liturgical terms. I have heard people remark that the structure of liturgy is an impediment to them; that there is too much repetition, not enough spontaneity... that ritual is a kind of spiritual dead end. I think it is quite the opposite! Ritual works by establishing an environment where what is unique in the celebration stands out all the more. Ritual, in other words, is a paradoxical way of fostering attentiveness by relieving us of the need to be totally on top of all the details. We are not in charge of how the service flows. It does not depend on us. We can "let it be done" to us by the one who is always ready to "break through."

No comments: