Thursday, June 7, 2012
“In Christ,” the crucial acceptance leading to Saul’s healing after being sickened by violence
Saul’s collapse on the way to Damascus does not resemble a “conversion” so much as it does that flipping in their lives some persons experience after a post-traumatic event. A person who has been converted moves from guilt to forgiveness to joy; after a flashback the person is more apt to be in a sort of paralysis and then on to anger and problems with other people. Most of them – us - find it hard to go “back home” again in one way or another; withdrawal is common. There can then be years of struggle with negative feelings, Saul seems to have followed this pattern. He disappeared into Arabia for a time, afterwards emerged to have a brief stay in Jerusalem, and then disappeared again. What followed must have been a lot of street corner preaching and fists…rocks, too. But then something happened that eventually led into an inspiring life. If we think about flashbacks, we can make a good guess about the transition.
His first flashback was of a Jesus alive and challenging his persecutor; Saul’s denial collapsed in this confrontation of a Messiah who had been brutally tortured before being crucified. It would have been God’s murdered messenger who appeared in Saul’s mind in an intense and immediate re-experiencing. No wonder he was caught up in overwhelming anxiety. But then a healing process began; Ananias was inspired to reach out to him, the Damascus followers of The (Jesus) Way accepted him, later Barnabas welcomed him, Peter even invited Saul to live with him. Then Saul relapsed – no surprise, if you know your PTSD. But that wasn’t the end.
Now comes something new; time passes and post-traumatic experiences are flexible; the brain has its healing ways. Barnabas has found him and now Saul begins to “find himself.” Once he was an outstanding scholar and now he is invited by his friend to start teaching. How’s that for trust.
Soon after this followers of The Way are being called “Christians,” “little Christs.” Saul must have accomplished a conversion. The Jewish Messiah – crucified, dead, buried and resurrected – was re-figured as the eternal Christ, as an internalized experience: now a healing one. His flashbacks had evolved into an accepted memory, a transformed and transforming one. Being accepted had led to an acceptance of a damning interjection. Reality, as an anxious memory was now one of a spiritual p process. The process continued to evolve, and we can continue to wonder, to marvel - and challenged to admit that healing is possible for us, too.
Saul was wounded, Saul groveled – as lots of us have groveled in all sorts of ways. There is more, however. Saul knew acceptance; realized that in a larger sense that God had been reaching out to him in Jesus, was reaching out. The flashbacks moved – in time – from the horrendous to a grasp of a new and peace filled understanding. It happened, can happen, does happen. “Much obliged” as they say in Texas, much obliged that even the most dreaded unforgetable can process from self-hate, to Christ being in us, and we in him.