The weeks of travel have begun, and I must say God is taking my level of anticipation a bit higher each day. He is providing contacts, accommodations, transportation, and opportunities that I had not imagined.
Only a week into this adventure, and already, I cannot choose just one highlight. Each day has held a special moment or event or connection of some sort.
However, there is a moment that stands out in my mind as I think about the last week because it was a tangible fulfillment of God’s promises to me. I found a random photo of a sunset behind a little church to serve as my desktop background on my computer last year as I prepared to come here. It was my reminder that God had promised I would make my home on the Emerald Isle, at least for a time.
On Saturday, I took a bus from Belfast to the town of Downpatrick. A couple of miles outside that town is a beautiful little church, the same little church that has been at home on my computer screen for the last several months. This is my own photo of it.
I was so excited to see this little building that represented the promises of God to me for a while, but there was something far more interesting that I found when I got there….
I don’t know how accurate the information on this sign is, as I have a sign from another church that claims it was where St. Patrick established a church. It is accepted that this is a likely spot for the beginnings of his ministry in Ireland, but honestly, who really knows the exact location?
What did strike me about this is that there was a church established in this locale nearly 13.5 centuries before my country was founded. Yes, I realize the land was there, and there were people living there. I’m not here to get into the politics surrounding the beginnings of what is now the United States of America. The reason I bring this up is that it once again gave me the perspective of how small I am in the grand scheme of things.
Somehow seeing buildings that are older than my country has a way of bringing into focus how relatively new the USA is in the annals of history. I know many people (both from the USA and not) who become so ethnocentric, so focused on the history, accomplishments or contributions of their own nation that they forget it is not the center of the globe, let alone the universe… I don’t often find myself thinking that way, but there is something about realizing how “young” the USA is that solidifies that acknowledgement.
In addition to the realization that the USA is young, I have a new appreciation for how big it is. In the past 2.5 weeks, I have been on the coast at each side of this island – north, south, east and west. In fact, I looked it up, and to drive from the southwest side of the island to the northeast would likely take 7 hours or less. By contrast, driving from Seattle, WA to Miami, FL would take 48 hours or more…
These realizations combined could make one feel very insignificant. I am one person from a massive country that has been in existence a fraction of the time that buildings I’m seeing have been standing. And yet, I am feeling quite the opposite. In the midst of realizing how small I am, I have seen how BIG the story I have been invited into is.
As I travel and meet people and learn more about the men and women from centuries past, I am seeing more and more that they were incredible people. I am also reminded that they were still people. St. Patrick was an incredible fellow, and his story is fascinating – no matter what version of it I happen to read! 🙂 I believe the most significant thing about his story though, is the same thing that makes the heroes of faith from Hebrews 11 and throughout history stand out from the crowd…
He said yes to God.
He answered a call to serve God no matter the circumstances. He was willing when others questioned his sanity. He obeyed the God he knew and loved, and because of his obedience and love for God, the world is a different place today.
I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a man who once considered himself a Christian. During the hours after I met him, he explained to me why he no longer believes in the things he was taught as a child. As the conversation progressed he asked me why I believe we are here. I answered something along the lines of God wanting others with whom to share relationship.
While this man believes in an almighty being and creator, when I asked him the same question, his answer was something along the line of “to play our part”. I don’t have time to fully explain the conversation, and honestly, I’m not sure I would be able to if I did have time. Suffice it to say that in his mind, we are “cells” in the organism of earth, and we are here simply to do our part to keep the whole being healthy. (If I understood correctly in my sleep deprived state, the earth is also a part meant to work toward the health of the next level out which is the solar system, I think…)
Maybe I’m being picky, but that doesn’t seem to answer my question. If a creator was involved in the beginning of these systems within systems, what is the purpose of any of it. If each is only there to sustain the life of the greater system, why make the first system to begin with? What is the overall purpose? If I am meant only to be a cog in a wheel, I’d like to know what the purpose of the wheel is.
That story may seem out-of-place in a post about St. Patrick and old buildings, but in my mind they are connected. As I thought about what I might have said differently yesterday (had I had the chance to really say anything), I realized that all of this really is about perspective. The lens through which we see reality, God and ourselves makes a huge difference in how we live.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a cog in a wheel. My existence is not just a means of making some grand cosmic system function, and neither is yours! No matter how old or young, big or small your place of origin is, no matter what good or bad things have happened in your past, no matter how small you feel in the scheme of things, you have an important part to play in history.
God is the Almighty Creator, and He has a very good reason for knitting you together in the way He did. As you are in relationship with God, responding to Him, and willing to say yes, you, like St. Patrick, can be part of shaping history for centuries to come!