A soft snow fell over night, blanketing our city with white grace. I woke up to grace still falling – huge flakes floating effortlessly from a grey sky.
A city gathers dirt quickly. All the trappings that make our modern life easy and comfortable find their way into the air and onto roads and buildings. Silently moving over and through the city, snow covers all of it.
As I look out on the snow, I think on how desperate I am for snow-like grace, how I am looking, longing for, and trying to grasp mercy and healing for myself and for others. It is an awful and wonderful privilege to be invited into the pain of another. And yet, there is a cost. Sharing and bearing the pain of another does not come without a price tag.
My theology should fare well under pain, I think to myself. Is not Christ my example? Christ, the Suffering Servant? Christ – the one who was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities?
In the second century, a slave named Felicity was imprisoned for being a Christian. She was a slave of Perpetua, a wealthy woman who was also a Christian and had discipled Felicity. Both were young women and on their imprisonment they lost everything. Perpetua was put into a part of the prison reserved for the wealthy, the only ones who had relatives wealthy enough to bribe the guards, ensuring better treatment of their loved ones. Felicity remained in the worst part of the prison, that part reserved for slaves.
Perpetua had a baby and Felicity was pregnant.
Both were sentenced to die a martyr’s death in the arena unless they renounced their faith. Before the time came for them to be put in the arena, Felicity gave birth. On seeing how much pain she was in during labor and childbirth, the guards mocked her. How would she stand the arena, they wondered, when something like childbirth caused her so much pain.
“Now I am the one who is suffering,” Felicity said “but in the arena, Another will be in me, suffering for me, because I will be suffering for Him.”
Felicity knew that in the arena God would not leave her, that he would be fully present bearing her pain. I never thought of the arena being filled with grace, but how could it not be grace-filled with the presence of God’s spirit when those killed were killed because of their faith?
You and I are unlikely to die the death of a martyr, but daily we do battle in the spiritual arena. Daily we face wild beasts and lions, often disguised as benign pets. These arenas can cause extraordinary spiritual pain. And we are sometimes called into the arena of another. Called to love, called to fight for them, called to walk with them, called to help them bear the pain, called to be reminders of the presence of God. In the words of my dear friend Lois, we are “given the calling of ministering grace in painful and profound ways.”
“In the Arena, another will be in me, suffering for me, because I will be suffering for Him.” The words of Felicity, spoken so long ago, are a profound challenge to which I prayerfully respond: May it be so, Lord Jesus. May it be so.
Note: Parts of this blog were previously posted under another post “In the Arena” published in 2016.