Probably because I spent time in Athens during a long-ago ten-day journey to Greece, St. Paul’s speech to the Athenians always pierces through my skull to ping around in my head. Recently, his words cut more deeply than usual. Plunging deeply into my heart and psyche, they leave red streaks. Just so does my memory of sitting alone in the Acopolis of Athens become so vivid that it feels like yesterday.
He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, (italics mine) though indeed he is not far from any one of us.
The apostle’s phrase applies to all of us. One might naturally think that the Apostle is speaking only to non-believers, but with just a few moments reflection, we understand that these words apply to each of us. Even perhaps grope for him and find him… so readily do we forget that indeed he is not far from any of us.
The memory of that day I sat alone in the Acropolis,
is intensely powerful because I sat for a long time watching tourists taking pictures of the ruins. We were from all over the world. Those taking the most photos happened to be the Japanese but as I sat watching, I was impressed by the similarity of the poses. Regardless of nationality, a man or a woman perched on one of the ruined steps or walls with a broad grin.
The longer I watched, the sadder I became: even perhaps grope for him and find him. As a kid college student, ancient Greece personified all that was true and noble in humanity. I had no faith in God, and so for me, the sole source of truth and wisdom was man. Watching my fellow tourists treat the Acroplis like precisely what it is, a crumbling monument to the past, hollowed me out.
It had been decades since I was that atheistic college kid but I remained worlds away from faith, from Him who is Truth.
In fact, it was on that journey that I began to write something other than nonfiction: poetry.
St Paul writes, “You Athenians,
I see in every respect that you are very religious. For as I walked around, looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar called, “To an Unkown God.” What you unknowingly worship I declare to you.
From what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul’s talk was not long. He would have known that it would not take many words. Hearts would either be aroused or not. Paul’s job was not to answer questions but rather to bring to consciousness what was hidden in the hearts of his listeners. Even perhaps grope for him and find him.
He uses an interesting phrase, “God has overlooked the time of ignorance” before he says it:
but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead.”
When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We should like to hear you on this some other time.” And so Paul left them
Did they know?
Did those who said they would “like to hear from you some other time” know there may not be another?
We think we have all the time in the world to decide, but do we?
…”God moves us in order to make the beginning of duty, easy. If we do not attend, He ceases to move us…if you will not turn to God now with a warm heart, you wll hereafter be obliged to do so (if you do so at all) with a cold heart-which is much harder. God keep you from this!”
God’s Commandments Not Burdensome-St. John Cardinal Henry Newman
In my first historical novel that journey to Greece reappears.
As does “To an unknown God.” I boldly paraphrased St Paul:
“The Jews demand a sign and the Greeks look for wisdom. Your prayer and inscription on this shrine, To an Unknown God, show your hunger for the truth of the One True God.” At my sharp inhalation of breath, Quintillus clasped my hand hard. The crowd was indeed huge…
It was late spring when my new husband and I made the journey, and the valley was still lush and green, dotted with wildflowers of all colors. The effect was a vivid tapestry that seemed miraculous after the arid, rocky limestone land we had just traversed. I could not deny the beauty of the Temple to Artemis and Apollo. Its uniquely pleasing Greek architecture was evident in the gigantic curving columns that seemed to reach to the heavens.
Quintillus pointed to a gigantic shrine crowned by the words, To an Unknown God. It overlooked one of the two rivers that poured into the Sacred Spring. The stone was beautiful, rainbow-hued marble that the setting sun had lit on fire.
It was little more than a breath, but Quintillus nodded. This stunning spot was my late husband’s burial place, his grave marked by a simple and profound testament to the God he had tried so hard to defend. I knew there could be no monument naming him. Any identification of the Governor of Judea would invite desecration of the worst sort.