I freely admit I’m no apostle, but I’ve barely begun to get acquainted with being a disciple, let alone an apostle. I was baptized at 32, and I can date my own Road to Damascus conversion experience to around 8 p.m. on Friday, September 3, 2010, at Bruce Van Blair’s prayer retreat at St. Benedict’s Center, so if I use Paul’s life as a timeline, I’ve still got 12 years of getting prepared and reoriented to go. I wonder what Christianity would be like if we all took thirteen years to listen to God before we started proclaiming.
I’ve also got an ambiguous relationship with the concept of being a “Message-bearer”. Before I was baptized, when people asked me if I went to church or if I was a Christian, my answer of “no” often prompted a lecture/testimony that was at best annoying and at worst comparable to my annual visit to the gynecologist – invasive and uncomfortable – and unfortunately, not as competent. My worst encounters with apostles occurred with the subway preachers I encountered in Manhattan. They were inevitably on the rush hour trains, clinging to both a strap and a worn Bible, bawling Jeremiah or Isaiah or The Book of Revelation at the top of their lungs into a train car of supremely disinterested New Yorkers who were all thinking the same thing: Sweet baby Jesus, if you really loved the world, you’d get these people off the trains so I can read the Times in peace. I could barely understand what they were screaming, but I knew with 100% certainty that if there was even the slightest chance I, too, would one day stand on a street corner and fling the prophets and spittle at innocent bystanders just trying to get to work on a Tuesday, God would have to make do without me.
God, of course, could make do with out me. Turns out I couldn’t make do without God.
I had a long-running, complicated, deep longing gnawing inside me…the kind of heart-breaking longing created when you’ve lost something you can’t identify, but you’d do almost anything to get that intangible back. I kept bumbling through my life, prickly and defensive about the longing yet unable to ignore it, searching for a way in, or a way out, or up or down or whatever would fix this. Fix me. The people I did turn to for discussion weren’t Subway Apostles, but more like a friend who seemed to have something, a peace, a calm, a centered way of living. I wanted to know more, and when I asked, she said very simple things like, “At my darkest hour, when I had nothing left at all, Jesus was with me and nothing has been the same since.”
The antithesis of a Subway Apostle, her answer was simple, personal, right in a totally bone-deep way…and infuriatingly impossible to replicate. She didn’t say, “I go to church every Sunday and I’ve accepted Jesus as my Savior, and I believe X and Y and Z with all my heart, and I know I’m saved.” Too many “I” statements in that sentence for me to feel comfortable with the advice, because “I” was quite clearly not able to do what I needed done. In contrast, God had done something within my friend, something intimate, something unique to her life circumstances and heart and spirit. Whatever it was made her glow. She just glowed with God’s presence. I wanted that glow.
Eventually my incessant focusing on mememe resulted, as it so frequently does, in all my worldly illusions crashing down around my ears. I wound up at Countryside, then at the prayer retreat at St Benedict’s, and at eight p.m. on Friday night, something happened. I can’t even explain what it was, just that one moment I was my incessantly self-absorbed self, and the next moment, I knew, I knew, that God had been talking to me my whole life, but I’d gotten so good at tuning out Subway Apostles, I’d also tuned out God. There it was, between one second and the next, Immanuel, God-With-Us, and always had been. That Friday night’s burst of grace transformed me, but the knowledge, the feeling is still so new and tender and secret I can’t imagine telling someone else about it in any detail, let alone claiming the status of apostle. I think I might even know how my friend felt, why she didn’t broadcast her salvation when I asked about her faith. I know that now I’m here and I was there, and I got from there to here by the grace of God (after a whole lot of prickly, defensive brokenness) and the leap across that vast expanse was not my own doing, but God, only God.
I can’t say I’m glowing. I think I am, inside, and maybe sometimes it shines out (but never during coffee hour – crowds stress me out) because sometimes people who’ve known me for a long time will ask why I’m different. When I tell them, the look in their eyes telegraphs loud and clear OH CRAPMONKEYS YOU DRANK THE KOOL-AID and I can see them plotting the quickest route to the nearest ER in case I need to get my stomach pumped, so I usually laugh and say dismissive little things like Oh, I finally grew up, let some things go, shifted my priorities. Give me another twelve years and maybe I’ll be a better apostle, but for now, when people ask why I’m different, I hope to imitate my friend, who said so very little yet lived so very loud.