I suspect many of you are doing what I did when I first heard that anthem.  I cried.    Crying can be good sometimes, crying puts us in touch with the heart, with what we treasure, crying allows us to acknowledge loss and crying sometimes becomes an energy point to make some important changes in life.

Right now, I am reading the poetry of rupi kaur, a young 27 year old Canadian poet who actually made her entrance on our world stage in Hoshiarpur, India before her family emigrated to Canada when she was four.  rupi was raised in the Brampton area becoming a well-known poet through Instagram and tumblr through the genre of visual poetry.

Listen to the key poem that frames were work titled the sun and her flowers

This is the recipe for life

said my mother

as she held me in her arms as i wept

think of those flowers you plant

in the garden each year

they will teach you

that people too

must wilt

fall

root

rise

in order to bloom.

 kaur's wisdom helps us feel both the depth and the hope of our scripture story today, the story of Saul’s holy confrontation on the Road to Damascus that leads to a life-change, a transformation   

As we hear the wisdom of this story, I invite us to wonder if we, as a collective society are having a “Damascus Road confrontation”.Consider that question as we remind ourselves of the story. 

Saul had aligned himself with the establishment intent on keeping the world the way it should be, that establishment intent on protecting normal, arranged for the crucifixion of Jesus.   In Saul’s eyes, the execution failed in silencing and dominating since the followers of Jesus had a renewed energy to continue to live the Spirit life and social vision nurtured by Jesus.  

In fact, thousands and thousands were joining the movement, and not just in Jerusalem but in city after city after city all around the land.  Things were getting out of control since the people were getting more and more bold in demanding changes to the religious and political institutions of the day.  They were wanting weird things like “equality” and dignity for all peoples, all races and genders as well as a rethinking of how wealth was distributed and the promotion of the dignity of workers and slaves.

Saul set his heart upon quelling this Spirit movement, to get things back to normal, and if more executions were needed, so be it.  He sought authorization to imprison and persecute the followers of The Way which was the name for the movement of Christ Jesus.

Here is the thing about Saul.  He thought he was doing the right thing.  His whole life had been dedicated to promoting the order of the world as he had been taught.    He was a Pharisee, an expert in the laws of his people, fervent and upright in its application.  His family pedigree was beyond reproach and his own code of conduct unblemished according to what he was taught.  He understood himself to be good, even his thinking he self-understood as good.

To defend this goodness, Saul set himself on the road to Damascus.  As Saul neared the city, something extraordinary happens, something Saul did not self-create, but a something which happens to him.  In this story this happening is described as a light from the heavens shining around, a happening that fells Saul.   Saul falls to the ground.  

Out of this crucible of light, Saul hears a voice, a voice that engages Saul in a difficult conversation, a difficult conversation that challenging his self-understanding about what is good.   This voice asks a question, a personal question because the voice calls his name,  Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Saul queries as to who might it be that is speaking.  The answer came, I am Jesus.  Saul hears the voice of the Crucified One, the voice who become one with all those who have been unjustly executed and who were suffering under the oppressors of the Empire.  Saul falls silent, but the voice instructs, get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.

Saul rises to his feet except that he can no longer see.  His self-assured person forced to stumble into the city as he is led by the hand of companions.

 

Literalizing texts never do us much good, but as metaphor, I cannot help but wonder if our world in 2020 is experiencing extraordinary happenings - pandemic and healing walks and protests in the streets – happenings where voices are being heard asking why are you persecuting us, persecutions that preceded the extraordinary happenings, the structural racism and colonial legacies, the poverty wages and inequities in healthcare, the neglect in senior care and disregard for climate and you know the list.

 

Extraordinary happenings surfacing difficult conversations, not new conversations, conversations demanding an intense and lived reckoning.

 

In our sacred story, the narrator describes Saul’s refusal to eat for three days as Saul is locked away in a house on a street called Straight, his own time of intense reckoning.  We can only image the inner dialogue, imaginations we recognize because all of us have those moments of being confronted with painful truths.

 

The Holy was at work in those three days, at work within and around Saul.   One individual, a target of Saul’s persecution, is also confronted by name.  Ananias is directed to visit Saul, to become an agent who will help Saul to see in a different way.  Ananias puts aside both his fear and skepticism, The fall is rooting something in the heart. 

Ananias goes and prays with Saul, that deep prayer that Joan Chittister describes that prayer that burns off the dross of what clings to our souls like mildew… prayer that can set us free for deeper, richer, truer lives in which we become what we seek… prayers that pass our lips and change our lives.  Saul surprises Ananias because from that root of prayer, the scales fall from Saul’s eyes and Saul rises to become a spokesperson for the very justice and compassion he was just persecuting.  Change can happen, conversions do take place.  Many of us testify to our own Damascus Road experiences.  There is hope.  Hope of people as individuals, and hope for communities as well.

 

Moments of change are significant, but the depth of change happens over a lifetime.  Saul, who became the apostle Paul, was not without his faults, there is much I am willing to quibble with, but there was without question a fire in the belly, a passion for the God-way as revealed in Christ Jesus, a passion that forged many difficult conversations in the coming days and years as Saul/Paul lived his conversion.   

 

Extraordinary happenings are occurring in 2020.   It is daunting and it is hopeful.   What vision is being born as scales fall from our collective eyes.  What changes and conversions are being wrought in our collective world, changes that we are called to support and not resist.  It is overwhelming and one senses an unleashing of energy, a hope-giving energy.  

 

Remember Kaur’s words.

 

This is the recipe for life

said my mother

as she held me in her arms as i wept

think of those flowers you plant

in the garden each year

they will teach you

that people too

must wilt

fall

root

rise

in order to bloom.

The story of the Damascus Road is the story of a personal conversion where an individual blossomed, yet this story is metaphor not only for us as individuals but for us collectively.  The story demands a response, a response that entails times of intense reckoning, entails days of being locked away and days of speaking out, of proclamation, of a rallying cry.

Today I invite us as our prayers as a people, to raise our voices in a song of energy and action, not a new song to us, but a song that is renewed in the heart, that cause the heart to cry for justice, a song that embodies the Christ who is one with all who are persecuted, a song that calls us by name to join our names alongside the names of the persecuted.

The Damascus road invites us to move and go, invites us to change and to act, song titled I Need To Move written by Gord Oaks and Chris Giffen.    

I need to move, I need to go

I need to change with what I know

I need to act, I need to flow

I need to move, I need to go

 

If not me then who is going to tell the story

There’s a mission and a call I can’t deny

I have heard the voices cry beneath oppression

I will speak for justice underneath the sky

 

From the edges and the margins comes a vision

A prophetic voice for peace arising strong

We are citizens who seek to move an empire

Like a steady current change is comin on.

 

There’s a journey with a purpose I must follow

Even if the road ahead be hard and long

Like a shining light that’s placed upon a mountain

There’s a dream of light arising in my song.