One day, we were going to pray, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and made her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and his entourage and would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. Paul grew tired of this and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus the Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
When her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the magistrates and said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”
The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. They were given a severe flogging, thrown into prison in the innermost cell, and their feet were bound.
Around midnight there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. The jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open; he drew his sword and was about to kill himself.
Paul shouted, “Do not harm yourself, we’re all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushed in and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. He said to them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s you cut your teeth on escapism and the commercially approved innocence. There were clearly defined boundaries. Good and evil had distinct characteristics. Right and wrong were universally known. The world seemed so big. The exotic was hard to find.
Every once in a while this innocence would be shaken by tragedy. The Night Stalker. The Atlanta Highway Murders. The Iranian Hostage Crisis. The 72 Olympics. The Challenger disaster. Chernobyl. The AIDS pandemic.
My youth seems to be defined by natural disaster and human calamity. Mount St. Helens that dusted our house with ash. Wild fires that blanketed the hills around my high school life. Floods that ravaged those same hills and took Adam from us all. Disease, ignorance, and hate that took Stevie, Olen, Napoléon, and countless other teens that never saw their 20’s. Then there were the earthquakes.
These were days of extremes for the US. Chicken one day, the feathers the next. For as much abundance we experienced, scarcity fueled the underlining desire to produce, consume, and prosper. Children born in these times are part of the Generation X, the forgotten or smashed generation. We seek creativity, justice, equality, and stability. All of these things are a reaction to and from the environment in which we were raised.
But nothing seems to have had as much an effect upon me as earthquakes. We had numerous earthquakes growing up. We mocked these rolling and rattling pockets of God with its own disaster film. Earthquakes were a nefarious villain that sought to destroy the progress that we as humanity sought to assert upon the will of this out of control, ignorant nature. The towers reaching for heaven. The civilized snakes that lead to and from our homes were severed by millions of years of releasing pressure. You were taught to fear earthquakes, least you be foiled by one.
By the time I experienced my first earthquake I was terrified that one day the earth would open its mouth and like the majestic Sarlacc pit monster of Star Wars fame, I would be swallowed up and be digested for a thousand years. Irrational fear propped up these ideas of earthquakes.
Then in 5th grade I experienced my first earthquake. I was spending the night at Jason Rudder’s house. I had never spent the night at someone else’s house before. Jason had two rabbits, a Laser Disk player, a Nintendo gaming console, Excite Bike, the latest LLCoolJ cassette, and his mom let us eat an entire pizza by ourselves. I was living large.
We spit lyrics back and forth as we played video games most of the night. I was loving being there, it was very different than my house. We finally started to fall asleep when the floor began to shake. The walls rattled. The furniture in the house moved. It sounded like a freight train was passing through the living room. I froze, looking for the Sarlacc to appear.
Jason ran and hid under the dinning room table. I followed him. We sat there under the table for what seemed like an hour. The shaking stopped. Jason’s mom turned on the lights and among a chorus of car alarms she inquired as to how we were. I was fine on the outside. Inside I was a tumbling mess. She called my mom and she came and picked me up. I did not sleep that night.
I am not so afraid of earthquakes now. I have experienced so many that I am numb to them. I am not sure this is a good thing.
What is left to set me free? What will shake my foundation?
The problem with Paul is that it always took earthquakes and Damascus road experiences to move him. Life is not always full of epic moments that transform, reboot, or renew the hardship, suffering, and calamity of the human existence.
“What must I do to be saved?”
This is not a question of salvation, eternity, or moral being as much as this is a question of community, belonging, and inclusion.
Everybody needs something to be connected with. Beyond a hobby. Beyond family. Beyond impermanence. We all want to be part of something that is beyond our self. Something the binds us to the mysteries and magisterium that surrounds us. It is this desire that is at the root of the Christian faith.
“What must I do to be saved?” really is saying, “How can I be as you are.” With the “be” recognizing the mystery of Jesus. I believe. Help me with my unbelief…
This is beyond escapism and commercially approved innocence. There is no need for clearly defined boundaries. Good and evil no longer have distinct characteristics. The world seems so small. The exotic is easy to find. Gone is the calamity of the human experience. Fire, flood, and quake no longer exist. All that remains is the pure unadulterated relationship with the Divine.