By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Galatians 1:18-2:10
18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days; 19but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me.
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. 3But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us — 5we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. 6And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — those leaders contributed nothing to me. 7On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised 8(for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), 9and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
Sometimes life has you wandering in a desert before you find your way home. I spent several years in confused agnosticism before God called me back to the faith. It happened in a strange context: deployed to Iraq, I experienced an intense epiphany one night alone on the desert sands. The cool night air was flowing over me, and as I walked across that dusty plane, the voice of God became louder in my soul than the Blackhawk helicopters flying nearby.
In many ways, my spiritual journey has flowed out of that epicenter. Yet early on I was plagued with doubt. How did I know this was the voice of God? Which God? How should I respond? Encountering the living God is an awesome gift, but in some ways it raised more questions than clarity for me.
I devoted the next few years of my life to seeking out others who had experienced this living God as well, and hearing their understanding of the faith. I began to read the mystics, the monks, the desert Fathers, and other Christians who had written so beautifully of what it meant to walk in God’s presence. In doing so, I was seeking recognition from those “esteemed as pillars” of the faith, confirming my own experience by seeing whether trustworthy persons besides myself had similar encounters.
Christianity is not inventing stories to make ourselves feel good or inspiring us to behave better. It’s an objective claim about how God has sent us the ultimate Good News in Jesus. It was important that my faith was not just grounded in God gripping me in the middle of that desert, but that it was also anchored by the faith of others, the witness of the Church, and the other stories of the faithful in the Scriptures. As I recognized the grace given by God to others, it gave me the confidence to trust them to confirm the grace God had given me.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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The Diocese of Akure (Nigeria)
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas