Setting the Story Straight

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from Philippians 3:13-4:1

13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.


In William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, the same story is retold from several characters’ perspectives, each with a different relationship to time. One character is fixated on the past, another obsessed with the future, another stuck in the present moment. Though the same story is repeated several times, the characters confuse the narrative they all share. Only the final character can hold past, present, and future in the appropriate balance and tell the story in a way that makes sense to the reader.

St. Paul is such a character for us. In his past, St. Paul was a ruthless persecutor of the Church, then one of its greatest defenders up to now; but he does not allow either to hamper his straining to what still lies ahead. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, he also understands how the past of Abraham, the present of the infant Church, and the future of the second coming of Christ hang together as one immense narrative arc. St. Paul helps illuminate how past, present, and future together tell one coherent narrative: the redemption of the world.

We should at every present moment hold fast to what we’ve attained (redemption) and  strain toward the goal (future salvation). St. Paul models this in his own life, while also revealing the larger order: past, present, and future, all one cohesive story pointing to God, the author of all, who is the beginning and the end. It’s all too easy for a cynical humanity to get stuck in the past, become obsessed with the present, or continually worry about tomorrow. In this chaos of disjointed time, our earthly lives could easily start to feel like “a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/ Signifying nothing.” If you are ever in danger of believing that, turn to St. Paul. He can help set the story straight for you.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Church of Ceylon (Extra-Provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury)
The Rt. Rev. Dhiloraj Ranjit Canagasabey, Bishop of Colombo
The Rt. Rev. Keerthisiri Fernando, Bishop of Kurunegala
Christ Church, Georgetown, Washington, DC


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