At this point one might ask, what relevance do St. Paul’s letters and these reflections have for us today? For myself, I began reading his letters as a way to keep Christ in my sights for the forty days of Lent. But something happened. I could have said, fini! Lent’s over, done with that. Which is usually what happens with our Lenten practices. But something happened.
As I was reading, reflecting and blogging about these letters I began to get a clearer understanding of St. Paul than that coming over the air ways. It has also strengthened my commitment as a lay woman in a church that does not always value the voice of lay women to continue the work I have been given to do.
This: When I was in grad school, I was in a small group discussion with religious who were going back to parishes to preach. It was a class in Methodology and we were discussing Paul’s letters and his experience. This one young religious kept talking about Paul falling from his horse on the Damascus Road. At one point I couldn’t contain myself any further, and piped up there was no horse. This may seem like an insignificant distinction and without much matter in the preaching. BUT, what it clearly showed me, is that this young man had not actually read the scriptural account of Paul experience on the Damascus Road. Can you really preach the gospel if you haven’t actually read it? Well, of course. It’s been happening for two thousand years.
I read it because I want to really know what it means to follow Jesus. What it means to be a Christian. And the only way to do this is to actually read the bible as it was written and in context. Paul’s been misunderstood in snippets. Pieces parsed out, misunderstood out of context and in the light of his entire body of work, and made into doctrine. Paul’s writing is about a way of life and living. Ways of being. Ways of being Christ. What faith in Christ makes of us.
Reading the letters in chronological order puts the letters in a different light. We can see Paul’s own development. Themes begin to emerge. His notion of the self. As you sift through his letters his sense of what I call the Christ-self emerges and it is this Christ-self that is ours to experience within ourselves today and I think that is significant in our bringing our faith-life into this century.
If we want to know what it means to live our lives accord to the Christ we have received he is a good place to start. Coupled with the gospels, we have a more well-rounded insight into the Christ-life. In a way, although written before the gospels, Paul’s letters are a commentary on the gospels.
It is not just meaning we seek, but the experience of God in Christ.
For Paul Christ is our abiding openness to God.
It is about our own self-understanding. What it means to be created in image and likeness, human and sacred. And that changes everything.
Paul’s theology (which is not a systematic theology at all) of the ‘hidden self’ is rooted in his message of self-understanding and knowledge of Christ’s life and love for us, which we especially need to get closer to today. It’s about the Life of the Spirit working in our lives. It’s about the journey, the journey that is about transformation, a journey as relevant for us today as the days in which Paul wrote, with or without a horse.