On the text from Acts 16.9-15
Eat, Pray, Love is about one woman’s journey. She travels around the world, from Italy to India to Bali.
The woman, Elizabeth Gilbert, says at the end of her journey, "...I've come to believe that there exists in the universe . . . "The Physics of The Quest" . . . the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: "If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting . . . and set out on a truth-seeking journey . . . and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared - most of all - to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself....then truth will not be withheld from you." Or so I've come to believe."
Consider in this light the account of Paul’s journey in Acts. All he and his companions had were vague instructions to go to Macedonia and find a man. But where in Macedonia? What man? Help him how?
The vision did not say.
And isn’t it interesting that the vision was of a man asking for help and what they found were women who didn’t need a thing from them?
That variation didn’t bother Paul and his buddies at all. And maybe there we find one of Ms. Gilbert’s clues to the truth of the journey: the journey may begin with a vision, but the vision is not the journey; nor is it a road map.
For Paul and his companions, the details didn’t matter, for they knew the real truth about visions from God: when you have one and you honor it and respond, things happen – good things – God things.
We can learn some things from this intersection of dreams and faith:
1. What God wants from us always begins as a dream, a vision, an idea – born in the heart of God. And when God dreams, it’s a big deal. World big . . . universe big . . . Garden of Eden big . . . I might dream of a new car or a new house, while God dreams of a new me.
2. Where we end up will not be where we thought we would be when we started. We have to be open to change along the way. Paul started out looking for a man but found instead a group of women. Anyone who has ever had a child or built a house understands this: you start out with one vision in mind, but you end up with something or someone entirely different. Do you love them any less because the house or the child is not a carbon copy of your dream? Of course not. So it is with God – we are in partnership with God and in enacting our dreams, something beyond what we imagined will emerge.
3. There is a sequence to these things and it must be followed: first the dream, then the journey and only then the destination. We cannot put destination first as if we were planning a vacation trip when we venture into God country. No – in God country, we must first allow for the dream. Then we must set out on our journey. And only then will we arrive at our destination, and as poet T. S. Eliot says, “We shall not cease from exploration. . . And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.” The journey is a circle rather than a straight line. It is a circle that takes us from dream to dream, from God to God, with people to be met and lessons to be learned along the way.
4. Finally, we must remember that we have something to offer. Paul’s dream vision saw a man pleading for help. What help? The truth is we can’t know. What Lydia’s own purpose was, we do not know. How that help was used, how it changed Lydia and the people of her household, we do not know. But we do know that she had a purpose and that they were changed and that the help was used, for that is how it always works in the Bible. Joseph wasn’t made head of Egypt just to be the head of Egypt: he was put in that position in order to be able to help his people when they needed it. Moses wasn’t made a leader just so he could enjoy the benefits of leading: he was made a leader because the people needed a leader. So with David and Mary and Paul himself. They were gifted by God and thus had something to offer the world. So too are we. The tricky part is to recognize what it is exactly that we’ve got that the world needs and then to offer it – freely.
And so we pray – and praying, we enter God’s dreams. We love – we act to help. And then we eat – we sit down at table with others, invited into their lives, sharing their dreams. And the cycle continues, the circle is complete and complete again. And God says that it is good.