Friday, April 24, 2009
Letters from Scotland- 3
Jane is from Perth so the picture is from Perth today. This is her third letter.
One of the stories my mother loved to tell about me was of how keen I was to start school and how, to the amusement of friends and family, her five year old would solemnly tell them that now she was at school, she was a knower of things. Chance would have been a fine thing and knower of things a childish exaggeration. I remembered that story when I came to your class those five years ago. I had just got my first computer and it was still very much a mystery to me. I had no broadband connection so things were slow. The Internet seemed an alien land and my typing skills were poor. Now I was about to become – Researcher of Things. Friends and family would have laughed again at my new claim.
Unit three of your course saw a new type of exercise - looking up documents on line; no books this time round. See what you can find out about Perpetua and Felicity and about Polycarp, you said. And so I entered the realm of search engines and what I found opened up a world of excitement, interest and new found knowledge that the five year old knower turned sixty-year-old researcher could only have dreamed of. As a research tool my computer was going to prove its weight in gold.
One of the things I most appreciated about your course was the fact that you never let us be content with stories about important figures in the history of spirituality. You always made us find the primary source so we could be exposed to what the searcher for God actually left behind in writing, so we could hear how the Spirit was speaking through each of them. The Holy Spirit is in those writings, I remember you saying, and Researcher-of-Things was off on her quest. That is how I came to be touched so deeply by two young women and one very old man.
I found the account of the martyrdom of Perpetua written in her own words and completed after her death which she faced in the arena with her fellow Christian, Felicity. These third century young mothers were converts to Christianity with everything to live for and yet faith so steadfast and courage so strong they could not deny Christ. Perpetua’s father had been frantic with worry about her conversion and her persisting on her chosen course and we hear her say, pointing to a water jug, and asking him, “See that pot lying there? Can you call it by any other name than what it is?” Her father answered, “Of course not.” Perpetua responded, “Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am — a Christian.”
In the martyrdom of Polycarp I would also find words that touched me to the core. Polycarp, disciple of John the Apostle who created him Bishop of Smyrna, was an old man when asked to deny Jesus. "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" With those words of love and trust Polycarp sealed his fate and met his death at the stake in 155 AD.
Oh, the questions and reflections those online documents threw up for your students trying hard to make sense of the spirituality of a bygone time. As for me, I was in awe at the love and faith of these believers and left wondering about my own. These primary sources could move the heart and confirm faith across nearly two thousand years.
Your student Jane, in Scotland.