Paul’s Damascus Road experience had to have been important to him. It certainly was important to the writer of the Book of Acts (Luke, we presume). The story is told three times, with variations in details. Oddly, in Paul’s own writings he doesn’t dwell on this experience: there are places in his letters where he speaks of visionary experiences and one passage in Galatians seems to refer to the Damascus Road event, but even this is not explicit.
Paul seems rather to be more concerned with what lies ahead than what lay behind, as dramatic as it may have been. In Philippians [3:12-14] he says: “Not that I have already obtained this [resurrection] or have already reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
As important as Paul’s Damascus Road experience must have been to him—and to the Church!—I wonder if he sensed the danger of dwelling too much in this original experience. We don’t get the sense from Paul’s letters that he tried to relive or sustain or replicate this important event. Many of us have had very significant experiences in our life of faith—and Paul goes on the say in Philippians that we ought to “hold fast to what we have attained”. But whatever we’ve experienced in the past, God is not done with us.
There may be fallings off horses and lights and voices from heaven to come. But the real work of conversion may arrive more stealthily and show itself more incrementally. The real work of conversion may come to us in the “trivial round, the common task”. A verse from a hymn by John Keble: “The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we ought to ask; room to deny ourselves; a road to bring us daily nearer God.” [Hymnal 1982 #10]
Daily. The mundane, the quotidian, moment to moment work of the Holy Spirit. As Richard of Chichester put it: “Day by day, dear Lord, of thee three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.” [Hymnal 1982 #654]
Day by day, moment by moment; the trivial round, the common task. That’s where we stand as we open ourselves yet again to the ongoing work of the Spirit.
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