January 2010 Archives
So...first blog of 2010. Yay! One big change from last semester: this semester's blogs are all going to be about readings from a book called Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation by William Placher. I'll admit, it's not as exciting as my project by a long shot, but I will attempt to post updates about Ever After Gowns from time to time. All EAG posts can be found under the "Project" category, and I shall attempt to make another category labeled "Callings" so that those posts are more accessible all in one place.
Anyway. On to Callings.
So, this week's readings were titled The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Apology, the latter of which was written by Tertullian. I'm going to talk about Perpetua, because I found her far more interesting than Tertullian.
According to Placher, Perpetua was "a North African Christian" was was "martyred in 203 AD along with several 'catechumens' (new converts still studying to become Christians)" (p. 39). This account obviously took place during the time of the Roman Empire, when being a Christian was a dangerous thing to be. It would most likely get one killed, although Placher does note that even at this time the Roman Empire was reluctant to kill Christians. In the story, Perpetua would have been released right at the very last moment, if only she was willing to perform the required sacrifices to the emperor (the emperor was thought to be a god in the Roman belief system). Another factor that plays into the story of Perpetua is the struggle within families when they realized their Christian relations were ready to die for their faith.
Before I go any further, I'm going to briefly recap the story of Perpetua. She was a young Roman woman, with an infant son, who was a new convert to Christianity. Her father was less than pleased with this, and Perpetua and others like her were imprisoned (Perpetua's infant son was allowed to be with her in jail). One night, Perpetua had a vision in which a vicious dragon guarded a ladder to heaven. Although the dragon killed anyone who tried to climb, a voice at the top of the ladder urged Perpetua to come up the ladder, as the dragon would not harm her in the name of Jesus Christ. She stepped on the dragon's head, and climbed the ladder, at the top of which was a magnificent garden. The old man at the top of the ladder welcomed Perpetua with open arms. Perpetua took this vision to mean there was no help for any of them in the earthy world. Although Perpetua's father visited her and pleaded with her to give up her faith, she refused until the very end. The group of Christians were thrown in the Colussium in order to face wild beasts, including a mad heifer and a leopard, and finally had their throats cut by a gladiator, which ended their earthly torment.
Exciting story, no?
So one thing that I see in Perpetua's story is the role of Christian community in her struggle. She wasn't taken to prison alone; she was in there with other people, including her brother. Even though her family had basically disowned her, she had found her true family within the Christian community. Those people relied on each other for support during their torment both in prison and in the arena. According to the text, Perpetua seemed to be one of those people whom everyone looked to for strength. She was perhaps their most obvious reminder of God's love. Even during their fight in the arena, they were there for each other as they were ravaged by mad animals. If one of them fell, another would go and support them until they were unable to. Although the story is primarily about Perpetua, I do not think that the account would have been the same if she was martyred by herself. Although she would have no doubt found strength in the Spirit, it would not have been as powerful a testimony. Christianity has an element of community to it that is inevitable. It is because they relied on both God and each other for strength and support in their trials that they were able to go to their deaths nobly.
I think that this element of community can be found even in today's world. While I am obviously not being persecuted as I am sitting in my dorm room writing this while watchingBeauty and the Beast, the church of Christ is still a constant source of support for me. Oftentimes when I'm struggling with something it will be my close friends who remind me of God's constant love. Granted, in the back of my mind those facts are never in doubt, but it is Christ's body that constantly brings it back to the front of my mind when I forget. As I know I mentioned in previous posts, I served in a Christian camp community this summer and was able to really experience the community of Christ in that setting. It was a strange feeling, knowing that even the people I didn't get along with would stand up for me and help me if I needed it. If I were a Christian completely unattached from every other Christian, I would in no way be the same person I am today. We were meant to live together in a community and serve one another in love. This idea carries with it many things that seem controversial in light of today's society. Being a part of that Christian community means holding other people up even when I myself am bleeding, like Perpetua and the others in the arena. It means that I cannot with a clear conscience let another suffer undue pain, either spiritual or physical. It means that I don't have to go through anything alone. The community of Christ is a physical reminder of God's constant presence in my life. Although all others may pass away, it is the bonds formed through and because of Christ that remain, no matter how bad my circumstances may get.