What I’m Thinking: Familiar Unfamiliar

Gathering by the river for prayer was familiar to the Apostle Paul and his companions. It was familiar, but it wasn’t.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the sixteenth chapter of Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16:9-15). Here we find the Apostle Paul making his way into Macedonia, to the city of Philippi.

Up until that point Paul’s journeys, while extensive, had been across the mountains and along the coasts of the Anatolian Peninsula (modern Turkey). He had a dream, however, that there were people in Macedonia who yearned to hear the good news, so he and his companions went. This section of Acts appears to come from a source: a companion of the Apostle Paul’s who had written a kind of a narrative travelogue, one that Luke quoted heavily when those portions matched that part of his story. And so much of this story gets told in the first person plural about the things that “we” did, unless, of course, it’s talking about the things that Paul himself did.

Well, they went to a place that must have been familiar and unfamiliar. They had been in the Greek cities of Asia Minor, going back and forth – Paul himself had been raised in such a one – but now they were in the heart of the ancient Greek Empire. Philippi named, in fact, after the Macedonian Emperor who united the Greek peninsula, the father of Alexander the Great. That must have been a very different kind of place to be.

So they sought out someplace that might have been more familiar. They went to look for a place of prayer, for whatever the Philippian equivalent of the synagogue was. It was a gathering place near the river. That must have felt just a little bit familiar to Paul. There were women gathered there. Discussing Torah? Meeting for prayer?

They were willing and able to welcome the apostle, to listen to his message, and to be inspired by it: to feel the Holy Spirit in it. Among them was Lydia, a dyer of purple cloth, someone who would have been connected as a trades person with the wealthy and the powerful, those who were able to afford purple cloth, those who were able by law to wear it. She, too, was among those baptized. She then offered the hospitality of her home to the visiting apostle.

It’s this funny mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar: the gathering of faithful people, but the gathering of faithful people in a strange city in a different land. It is a curious and yet familiar vision of the life of faith: Coming to that which is not quite like what we know, bringing there something new that those present do not already know, but something familiar enough that it finds its way into our spirits and fills our souls.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , | Posted on May 16, 2022

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