It's no coincidence that, on a Sunday when I seemed to be in much more physical pain than most "normal" days I've had so far on this trip, my pastor was led to preach on the story of Paul and Silas in jail. (Found in Acts 16:16-35. Um... in the Bible.)
This story has always been one of my favorites. To me, it's powerful and one of the most miraculous in the New Testament. But I had somehow forgotten it. I've done such a thing before. For instance, I've never forgotten the story of The Grasshopper and the Ant (which is totally anti-caelifera if you ask me) but had, until very recently, completely buried deep within my brain the parable of The Scorpion and the Frog. Neither of which has anything to do with the story of Paul and Silas in jail.
Forgive me as I quickly paraphrase the story for those who are unfamiliar:
Paul and Silas have angered some people. Those people drag Paul and his buddy Silas before the local authorities making claims which mostly seem to be that the two are disturbing the culture with different ideas. (In reality Paul had just helped out a slave girl and these "people" were no longer going to be able to make money off of her.) Turns out there's so many angry that the authorities completely side with them and have our heroes flogged and thrown into jail.
Flogging, in this time and place, was no simple whipping. Especially in this sense. We're referencing having your body torn open by a whip, baring layers of flesh and sometimes ripping into organs. After such an experience they were placed in chains in a jail. No one attended to their wounds except to ensure, possibly, that they wouldn't die from the torture and, perhaps, bring to much attention to those "authorities" previously mentioned. Their reaction? To sing praises to God. They chose to pray, and praise, their God.
In the middle of the night, and the middle of their songs, there was an earthquake. The chains of all of the prisoners, as well as Paul and Silas came loose and the jail doors swung open. The head jailer, who had apparently been sleeping until the earthquake (It's true. My mother used to sing me to sleep with hymns.) woke up, saw all the doors open and pulled out his sword to kill himself. See, the deal was that if you lost a prisoner, you got permanently fired... from life. But Paul yelled not to do it because all the prisoners were still there. (Do you get the feeling the historian was a little "Paul friendly" here? I mean, Silas doesn't say a lot. Does he?) The jailer gets a torch, checks it out, and everyone is still where they're supposed to be.
I've always been amazed at what I believe to be the power of the Holy Spirit in this story. These guys are praising God and God proceeds to shake the doors open and chains loose. I mean... It inspires awe in me. Then I have admire Paul and Silas, not knowing how long they would be held in jail, stay right where they are because what they do know is that if they do run, that man whose duty it is to guard them, will die. (There are a lot of commas in that run-on-ish sentence.)
But what I've always missed, until it was laid out in front of me today, is the fact that they were choosing to praise God and find joy in their circumstances in spite of the pain they were in. It's not that they didn't feel the pain. It's just that the pain was not as important as letting God know they still trusted in Him and His plan.
I don't know if I missed it as much as just focused on the other aspects. Maybe it's just that God knew I would need that boost to my faith, that spiritual kick in the butt, on November 28th, 2010. As much as the bad things seem to happen at the worst times, the good things seem to happen at the best times.
Today I was reminded to "choose joy" in spite of the pain. Maybe even because of the pain. Because it's when I'm hurting the most that I need to praise God for what it is He's given me. Maybe I need to sing because a song can lead you to the light when you've got your eyes closed, because you're afraid of what might be in the darkness.
Last call. If you'd like a Christmas card, I'd love to send you one, but would need your address. Please email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and... I'm always looking for snail mail! Christmas, Hanuka, Ramadan, Grandparents day or just one with nothing in it and a strange pastel painting of a white kitten chasing a butterfly on the front for no apparent reason:
Aaron, Kristin & Belle Jamison
(or just The Jamisons, or Aaron, or whatever really)
PO Box 72047
Eugene, Oregon 97401
Also, if you're looking for something spiritual, yet casual, to do on Christmas eve, please feel free to join Kristin, about a hundred of our closest friends and me at our church (Christ Fellowship) on December 24th at 5:30pm where we'll light some candles and sing spiritual songs of the season by their light. (We meet at the far end of Kelly Middle School in Eugene.) Or you can join us any Sunday at 10:30am in the same place.
Oh! Also, also, wik: For Tony (my pastor)... Though by the length of time it takes you to respond to your email, I doubt you've ever read this blog... Thanks for allowing me a little plagiarism.