There he sat in a trance, being tempted by none other than the God he had dedicated his life to obey.
“Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”
Peter’s response was the “correct” one. “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” He was standing on the sacred foundation of his belief system. He was doing what he had been taught to do in order to obey God. Things made sense within that system. There were rules, crystal clear rules about what he was allowed to do and not allowed to do. And God had made it clear—or so he thought anyway—that eating unclean animals was a grave sin. Doing so would have made him unclean and therefore not worthy of his position.
Still, despite Peter giving God the “correct” answer, God stubbornly persists. The animals are displayed in front of Peter again and God tells him to kill and eat. Again Peter resists, staying true to the fundamental and sacred tenants of his deeply held beliefs. Then God does the unimaginable and pushes this profane request a third time.
This time Peter was deeply perplexed. Wouldn’t you be? God, the one who he believed required him to avoid unclean food in the first place, was the one asking him to break his sacred vow. Peter found himself disoriented and confused—the perfect soil in which to plant the seed of transformation.
Cornelius, a Gentile and centurion, had a vision the day before Peter’s disorienting trance. An Angel told him to send some men to Peter and invite him to his place. According to Peter’s belief system, this would have been strictly forbidden. Had the trance not shaken his certainty in that belief system, he would never have accepted Cornelius’ invitation and maybe never made the beautiful realization: “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.”
The broader Christian Church has not always been able to sit inside of the mystery of God. There has often been a heavy premium placed on having it all figured out and brutally attacking anyone who threatened to throw a wrench in the machine. This posture has caused many of us who claim the title of Christian to be resistant to the seeds of transformation. We want to be transformed, just not in a way that makes us less certain of our beliefs or uncomfortable in any way.
There is a beautiful legend that illustrates how the Celtic Christian tradition, once again, has something to teach us. St. Brigid, a beloved Irish saint, was visiting her Bishop along with a few other women. They were there to receive a blessing and be on their way. Brigid intentionally waited until all the other women had gone and then presented herself to the Bishop. Suddenly a pillar of fire appeared over Brigid’s head and he was moved to speak the words of Ordination of a Bishop over her. As was common in the Christian church, it was strictly forbidden for a woman to occupy the role that Brigid was just given. In response to that criticism the Bishop said, “No power have I in this matter, insomuch as God hath given unto her this honour beyond every woman.”
I wonder how often clinging to my tiny little box of understanding has gotten in the way of what God was doing. I wonder how often my desire to push away disorientation and confusion has caused the soil of my heart to become infertile for transformation. If Peter’s and Brigid’s stories inspire us at all, let them inspire us to stop and listen the next time we find ourselves deeply disturbed by what we feel invited into. Odds are that transformation is waiting on the other side.
Ben Edwards is a member of Celtic Way's Board of Directors. Read more about him here.