We spend a lot of time and effort trying to make sure that our churches and ministries are safe, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Those are important efforts, and I am thankful we have an opportunity to afford each other that safety. I hope we keep getting better at it.
But once upon a time, safety was a lot more difficult to guarantee.
In 203 c.e., a young, socially respectable woman named Perpetua was imprisoned for confessing faith in Jesus Christ. The story of her martyrdom is recorded mostly in her own hand and is one of our very earliest extant Christian writings.
We commemorate her on March 7.
I don’t think that’s the only reason to remember her today, though. Hers is a story of a staunch faith, but also an imaginative faith. She is steady in her confession in the face of her weeping father and amid the violence of the prison and the stadium in which she meets her end. She is open to the possibility of revelation in dreams and the power of prayer even to save a brother who had been devoured by cancer years earlier.
That sounds odd. It’s a strange story. When you have a chunk of time, wend your way over to an English translation of the story. Don’t read it while you’re eating.
Even though it’s a martyrdom story, a story full of suffering, it’s also a story full of hope and mercy. Perpetua does not begrudge her captors and torturers. Time after time, she shows them grace and kindness. Time after time, she writes of her hope in the glory she will meet when her story comes to an end.
It’s a hard story to read, not only because the language is archaic and the events horrific, but mostly because Perpetua’s faith is so steadfast it makes me feel like a worm.
I’m well aware when my courage and my kindness have failed. It happens all the time. But somehow, I keep coming up with new opportunities to be courageous and kind, and courageously kind. Occasionally, I even do an alright job.
I’d love to be like Perpetua. I mean, not pregnant and imprisoned; but I’d like to have that kind of courage and steadfast kindness. I’d like to have faith and love and hope shining through me like she does.
Maybe Lent is a good time to aim for that. Maybe I need to take advantage of the opportunities I have to be courageous and kind.
God, help me. I really need more of that in my life.