From the Book of Acts:
The magician Elymas (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Acts 13:8-10 – September 6, 2012)
As I look at life, crooked lines abound. It’s what human beings do. Bar-Jesus (as the magician Elymas is also named in the Book of Acts) may have been making the straight crooked with evil intent, but I suspect that most human beings just do it out of habit, out of an inability to do anything else, out of (maybe) some sort of primate instinct to make a mess. My mother used to admonish me, in a lot of circumstances, “Don’t get bent out of shape!” At sixty years of age, I have come to suspect that there is no way to avoid life getting bent out of shape! Crooked lines abound.
Way back when I was in college I had a good friend whose job was taking care of the animals used in our psychology department’s experimental work. He took care of pigeons and rats and cats and all sorts of critters, including some kind of monkeys (don’t ask me what kind . . . I don’t think I ever knew). I remember once visiting him at work and watching the monkeys play. Someone had given them a length of copper house wire (that thick 12-gauge stuff) and they were happily bending it into a mass of crookedness, then trying (unsuccessfully) to straighten it out.
That, it seems, is what happens in life. We get our monkey hands on things, even things that are straight, and we bend them up. And then we can’t unbend them on our own. Have you ever tried to straighten a bent-up mess of wire by yourself? Can’t be done. But there is an old rabbinic proverb, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” With God’s help, things can get straightened out. Wire, lives, relationships, paths to salvation. I don’t think Paul really had to worry about Elymas; God can take care of God’s paths. It’s our crooked lines that we need to worry about; with God’s help, we need to get them worked out, straightened out, or at least a little bit untangled.
One of my favorite prayer resources is the book Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community in England. In it there is this lovely prayer picking up on the rabbinic proverb, acknowledging the bent-out-of-shapeness of our lives, and seeking God’s help with straightening things out:
I cannot undo the past,
or make it never have happened!
– neither can You. There are some things
that are not possible even for You
– but not many!
I ask you,
and from the bottom of my heart:
would You write straight
with my crooked lines?
Out of the serious mistakes of my life
will You make something beautiful for You?
Teach me to live at peace with You,
to make peace with others
and even myself.
Give me fresh vision. Let me
experience Your love so deeply
that I am free to
face the future with a steady eye,
and strong in hope.
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.