Conversion is disruption. It has disrupted Saul, Ananias and Peter. Nothing in their current "myths" has prepared them for what they encounter in today's readings. They have not realized before this moment that what they are about to encounter can be real or even possible.
To quote the Blues Brothers, Saul is "on a mission from God" with all the zeal of one who feels called to a "jihad." There is a group threatening all that has served his tradition, threatening all that he believes has kept the people in relation to God for centuries. These followers of the one from Nazareth are challenging Torah and tradition. Saul believes he has been faithful enough to recognize the threat and offers himself to God and the tradition as he sees best.
A great light disrupts his crusade.
Across town, it is a troubling dream that has disturbed another person seeking to be faithful to God. Go to this Saul and welcome him? Open himself to one who has been responsible for the deaths and tortures of the faithful? Expose his community to the possibility of physical danger if Saul cannot be trusted? Can his dream be trusted? Is it not contrary to his understanding and experience?
A troubling dream has disrupted his life.
For Peter, the killing of the one in whom he had placed his trust, his vocation, and his heart has disrupted his life. He goes back to that which he knows and can trust--the old ways--fishing. Perhaps it is the only thing that offers any sense of security. Perhaps it is the only thing that seems to make any sense for him these days.
He ventures out into the darkness of night hoping for some normalcy. Perhaps the rhythms of the waves, the sounds of fish flipping in the nets, will take him back to a place long before he met this Jesus. Maybe the smell of the water and the sound of the oars will create a calm and peace he has not had since his friend was killed. Yet even this night affords no solace and, despite their efforts, the nets are empty.
He is disrupted when one whom they can't recognize tells them to try again. Despite what he knows about fishing, he sends in the nets. This time they have caught something beyond their imagination. They return to the shore. A fire has been set; a catch is offered. And in the common meal they recognize.
For Peter, a catch has disrupted his life.
Saul, Ananias, and Peter are facing the disruption of their faith, their vocations, and their hearts. Saul and Ananias must countenance things they perceive to be evil as possibly being God. Peter must countenance offering his self, his soul and body yet once again.
All take the risk. All could be terribly wrong. All find themselves driven by something greater than their current understandings and the myths that inform them.
All are disrupted.
In her book "Leadership and the New Science," Margaret Wheatley reminds us that biological life is an ongoing process of disruption and reorganization in the basic relationships that uphold life. She recounts the observations of biological and physical scientists that creation is continually sampling and reconfiguring its basic relationships, and that the constant sampling and reconfiguring is essential if life is to continue. Refuse to sample and die, the scientists tell us.
The frightening part, of course, is that in the process of sampling, the known is at risk. The fear beckons stasis. One can hear the Israelites in the desert despairing their lot, saying, "While we were in bondage in Egypt, did we not at least have garlic and leeks in our broth? Why have you brought us out here to die?" They recognized the risk. They recognized that nothing was safe on this journey and that this journey is disruptive.
Alzheimer's has brought about disruption in our family this year. As it has progressed in my father, we find ourselves faced with his need for round-the-clock care. As the reality became more evident, I found in myself the natural inclination to run from that before me. I do not wish to see him in this condition. I do not want these kinds of memories of my father. I do not want him to lose the memories of who he is. The diminishing of abilities and memory are not something through which I wish to live. Watching him struggle with the awareness of what is taking place in him is more than I can bear at times.
Is the risen Christ able to be seen in this disruption? And what kind of pain must be the vehicle for that sight? If I open myself to this disruption, is the potential conversion worth it? What if we open ourselves to Saul and he destroys us? What if we open ourselves to pain and it overwhelms? And what if I choose to stay in hiding, choose not to venture into this disruption?
I think the fear found in these questions is one reason that whenever I find myself in a period of disruption in the core of my beliefs, experiences, and understandings, I often have dreams of my grandparents' house, for it is a place whose memories are about safety and the known. I believe my unconscious is recognizing the experience of upheaval and displaying a yearning for the predictable, the safe. I believe my unconscious is aware of the risks and the threats and the disruption.
So given the risks, why go through this disruption? Why take the chance on conversion?
I recently had the opportunity to hear John Lewis, congressman from Georgia, reflect upon some experiences of conversion. Lewis, as you may recall, was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In his early 20s, he walked with Martin Luther King Jr., across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He was labeled by the mayor of Selma as one of the most dangerous men in America. His pursuit of Isaiah's vision of justice and the American dream garnered him numerous beatings and jailings. After his presentation he was asked, "Considering the prejudice you have lived through in your life, what has kept you from living in bitterness?" He stated, "There comes a time when you must have an executive session with yourself regarding from where you will live. As well, my life is also informed by the changes I have seen. Is all well racially in America? No. And yet I have recently been invited by the same mayor of Selma to return to that city as an honored guest. I have seen changes in towns across the country, and I must decide from where I live."
My guess is that the invitation of the mayor of Selma was a disruption for Lewis. After all, it was this same mayor who was responsible for the beatings and jailings of himself and his companions. He sounds a bit like Ananias. I imagine he had to allow his understandings of race relations, certain white persons, and many American people in general, to be disrupted.
Trust these folks? Extend myself to them? And yet in his statements is the saying that life is more possible in the disruption than in the stasis. Life is more possible in the opening of myself than in the closing. To quote him again, "One must choose from where one will live."
So how do we countenance disruption? I think our readings offer some thoughts.
First, perhaps understanding that Easter is a disruption offers some hope. Dying to find life. Lose your life to find it. Offer your life in order to own it. In laying down his life, Jesus saves it. By offering their nets to Jesus, the disciples have caught more than they could imagine.
In offering our myths, our experiences, our traditions, we find them. In laying down our understandings, we gain them.
It is what Paul, Ananias, and Peter choose to do. Life awaits them in these strange events. It does not fit their myths. It is a disruption, and they are not alone, for it is the continual story of those seeking God--from Abraham to Mary to Theresa and Oscar Romero. New life is found in disruption.
How do we allow for disruption? First, accepting that the Easter event is a disruption. Second, seeing the power of meals to provide the context for the opening of our eyes may allow us to countenance this disruption. As the disciples are working to believe what is appearing before them, it is the common meal that creates the space for knowing. What is it about meals that can create intimacy? How do shared elements open us? What is it about the committed time together which creates a space in which we can welcome disruption? And how do shared stories help us to be receptive to myths outside our own?
Again, the countenancing of disturbance seems to be helped not only in the acceptance of Easter as a disruption and the sharing of meals, but, third, by venturing out. Saul, Ananias, and Peter are only open to the disruption because they have chosen to go outside, to venture out: Saul, on his crusade, Ananias, walking to Saul, and Peter, first going fishing and then jumping out of the boat. He could have stayed ensconced in some figurative or literal hiding place. They each could have simply closed themselves off from anything outside, anything that would disrupt their myths and understandings. Yet each chooses to venture out and, in doing so, encounters disruption and conversion. They each make themselves vulnerable and open as they venture out.
And is this not the rhythm of liturgy and mission? We gather, share the stories, eat, and go out. We go out and bring those experiences of our daily lives back into the liturgy. The going out and the gathering are each mutually feeding--each mutually informing. One is not able to speak without the other. Both the liturgy and the living of our daily lives provide the context for disruption, conversion, and knowing. Opening ourselves to this constant rhythm allows us to come face-to-face with the risen Christ. Whether it be in the person of Saul or Ananias, Alzheimer's, or whoever and whatever it is we see before us as least likely to manifest the Christ, it is this rhythm that allows the risen one to be recognized amid the disruption.
And so, where do you today find yourself being disrupted? In what places do we find our myths, our experiences, our understandings challenged? In what areas of our lives do we find disorder?
What will it take for us to see in them the risen Christ?
And what will it take for us to open ourselves to the disruption of conversion?
Let us pray.
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of the bread, open our eyes that we may behold him in all his redeeming work, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.