In the short space of five verses, there were two separate but linked stories in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (16: 11-15). I felt as if I were part of each one by moving imaginally back in time and space to join these early brothers and sisters in their travels and the wonder of their experiences.
- Paul and his companions set out on an ambitious voyage around the Greek Islands. I could see them walking down to their boat with supplies strapped on their backs as if they were not only sailing but also hiking from place to place at each destination: first to Troas in Turkey, next at Samothrace, an island in the Aegean Sea, stopping in Neapolis and on to Philippi – finally a familiar name…and as I took a breath, wondering where all their energy came from and realizing it had to be the passion for the mission and that the trip must have taken not one but many days, found myself with them “outside the city gate along the river looking for a place of prayer” on the Sabbath.
- Enter Lydia, woman that many people immediately recognize as a “dealer in purple cloth.” She was among the women who had already gathered when the apostles arrived and “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying.” It’s easy, considering the scene, to catch the mood of the day in the participants and to feel the joy of recognition in Lydia who, with her household, was baptized that very day. Tradition tells us that Lydia was the first Christian convert on the European continent and that her conversion was a call to a ministry of hospitality, inviting Paul, Silas and the other workers for Christ stay at her home.
It is rare for me to be able to image such scenes in such a visceral way. I’m grateful for the opportunity and the grace that puts me in touch with my ancestors in faith. I would recommend the adventure to anyone!