For a recent assignment in my Understanding the Bible course, we were asked to write a Midrash…that is, an imaginative retelling of a Biblical account, such as the (almost) sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, David and Goliath, et cetera. We were supposed to meditate on the physiological reactions of the characters in the story. So here is mine, based on Acts 9, the conversion of St. Paul.
From the very start of the journey to Damascus, I did my best to remain as far from Saul
as possible. I kept to the back of the train, gripping the reins of my horse as waves of panic
clenched in my chest. What cruel twist of fate had brought me to the very side of this man bent
on finding and eliminating my brothers and sisters in Christ? I needed the money. My mother
and my five siblings depended on me. As the servant of this wealthy Jew, Saul of Tarsus, I
measured my success by the wages I earned from him and the rest of the party. I did my best to
be helpful, but matters became quickly awkward when I understood what sort of man Saul was. I
belonged to the Way! My mother, my family, myself—we had chosen to be baptized months
before when the Apostle Peter visited our town. A day after our journey began it struck me that
I’d joined the travelling party of this unnerving man, who made it his duty to hunt down
followers of Christ.
I found myself fixed on observing Saul, the man with chilling intentions. His person
commanded respect—he stood tall and broad with sharp eyes and an unwavering gaze. In all, he
struck me as a bold, self-assured person. He knew exactly what he needed to, how he ought to
carry it out, and how to inspire in others the same sort of determination. One night—before the
day that would change this intimidating man from the inside out—I lay awake listening to him
and his companion. They’d become deeply absorbed in discussing their plans for when they
“Ah, yes…I will weed them out, as thoroughly as possible. Once they hear their
own have been hauled to Jerusalem, they will have the good sense to keep their heretical ideas to
themselves.” Saul’s voice hardened. I believed he would carry out exactly what he meant to do.
His tone left no margin of mercy or compassion.
I raised my head slightly to get a good look at his face—painted in the firelight, it was
drawn with the weight of his intention.
Everything changed the following day, under the beating sun of this dry land. We could
see the city of Damascus from far off, its buildings glowing in the burning daylight. Saul’s gazed
settled on that city, his brows furrowed in a brooding expression. He continued looking there as
he ran a hand across his glistening forehead. And then, without a sound, he dropped from his
horse, to everyone else’s surprise. We stared as he lay on the ground, his chest heaving, his eyes
wide and staring at the pale sky. And then came the voice—strong and light as the winds,
carrying all around us. My heart bounded, as that voice cried gently, “Saul, Saul, why do you
Saul gasped, as if desperate for air. He blinked as though an overwhelming light shone
into his face. At last, in a cracked voice, he demanded, “Who are you…Lord?”
Joy burst in my chest—I waited as did Saul, and everyone else. We wanted to hear that
voice which assaulted our minds and souls with the overwhelming realness of it. I looked at the
others’ faces and knew, the voice of the Lord shook them also to their very core. Their faces lit
with the same radiant joy that thundered through me.
And with the dry wind circling around us the Lord answered Saul’s question in a
whispering heavenly storm: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the
city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Saul tried his best to sit up, his mouth upon and his face contorted with tremulous awe.
Tears streaked down his cheeks, a soundless reaction to this encounter with Him. He lay there,
shivering, till I at last swung down, marching past the terrified others. I knelt beside Saul, who
reached out haphazardly, touching my face, my knee, my arm.
“The Lord, the Lord,” he whispered, over and over. His mouth trembled, and he blinked
once before saying. “Lead me to the city. The Lord…He told me—”
“Yes,” I smiled, although he could not see it. I grasped his hand and helped him to his
“You know the Lord?” Saul whispered. He looked significantly younger, his features no
longer tense but radiant with joy.
“I do know Him. I have chosen to follow Him,” I answered quietly.
“So will I…so will I,” Saul’s voice lifted, and in the darkness of his blind vision he
beheld Peace itself—it came over him like water, fresh and reviving.