I have been working independently for around two years now. Before this I had spent over 30 years employed by church related organisations. Being self-employed brings freedoms but also challenges. There is a greater need for self-promotion – not something that comes naturally to me. There are periods when work dries up and the future seems uncertain. Last week was such a time. Without set tasks to do I sought to push a few more doors to see if they might be open to what I have to offer. Then a time came when I had done all I could – on that day at least.
I went for a walk in the woods and into my mind came the story of Philip in the Acts of the Apostles. Philip was one of those appointed by the early Church as deacons, set aside to support the apostles in the spreading of the Good News of Jesus. A time of persecution came; Philip’s co-worker, Stephen, was stoned to death by an angry mob. Philip fled to Samaria where he continued to proclaim the word of God. Then an angel spoke to him:
‘Get up and go towards the south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza’.
[Acts 8: 26]
The author of Acts goes on to explain that this was a ‘wilderness road.’
What could a trip down a wilderness road bring? If you travel into emptiness what hope have you of finding anything of meaning?
But another was travelling along the way: a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, and a eunuch. He was reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah and could not make sense of the words. Philip got into conversation with the man and was able to break open the words the court official felt drawn to, but could not find meaning in. The eunuch asked Philip to baptise him. Having done so, the two parted, never to meet again.
Both travelled ‘the wilderness road’, full of questions and uncertainties. In their meeting with each other they became each other’s answer.
When emptiness and uncertainty meet us perhaps there is no other way than to choose to travel the wilderness road. When we have done all we can, there comes a time to let go of trying to make something happen or hammering away to resolve what as yet resists resolution. Meaning will come in its own time and by gift. What belongs to us to do is to pay attention to whatever speaks to our spirit, no matter how far removed it seems from the questions that burden us. It made no sense for Philip to travel along a road into empty places; but the draw to do so was clear. The court official was caught by words he could not understand, yet tugged at his spirit in an undeniable way.
As I walk in the woods am I Philip or the Ethiopian? Am I going this wilderness way to answer another’s question, or to be surprised by one who answers my own?