a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 70
"No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main." John Donne
The ship pitched and tossed with the white-crested waves that battered its progress through the waters of the Great Sea or, to the Romans who now ruled the world, Mare Internum. Far astern, just visible through the gray haze, the isle of Rhodes -- their last port -- receded from sight, diminishing against the horizon that was lost between the gray of the sea and the gray of the overcast sky. Ahead of the ship was only more gray, and night -- as well as their next port of Myra, in Lycia -- approached.
Diomedes, clutching tightly to the wooden railing, glanced back in time to observe two members of the ship's crew haul on board the dinghy that in calmer waters was towed behind the ship. He knew then that the crew expected a strong gale to hit.
Hand over hand, stepping carefully on the wet deck, Diomedes made his way forward to the hatch that led down to the hold -- and shelter from the approaching storm. There he would enjoy some wine and the companionship of the few passengers as they comforted each other against the unsettling movement of the waves.
The ship lurched to one side, and Diomedes grabbed hold of the hatch's handle, eager to get inside, when he heard a low moan escape from what he had thought was just a large pile of rags collected at the base of the ship's central mast. Closer inspection revealed the cluttered outline of a man huddled against the wind and wet sea air.
"Are you all right, sir?" He called. "Do you need assistance?" Getting no response, Diomedes drew closer, touched the huddled figure where he would expect a shoulder. "Sir, can I help?"
The figure inside the rags moved. Gradually a rather longish nose emerged through the folds, followed by a pasty-white cheek, a chin, finally an eye, then two eyes that gazed up miserably at Diomedes, who repeated: "Can I help you, sir?"
"I-I'll be all right. I told them I'd be all right."
"M-my friends. They're below."
"As should be you." Taking him by the arm, "Here, let me help--"
"No!" The wretched little man protested. "I'll do better here. Need the air. Please, I'll be all right."
"Yes, I understand," Diomedes said, settling down next to him. "The sea sickness is suffered more successfully up above. I'll stay with you awhile, but when the storm hits we must go below."
"You needn't stay. I'll be safe here."
"Nonsense. What you need is to take your mind off your queasy stomach." He pulled his outer cloak more tightly about him, against the chilled air. "I am Diomedes, from Paphos."
"Ah," the man brightened for a moment, "I know your city. I was there . .. oh my, it must have been about eight years ago. We crossed almost the length of your island of Cyprus -- from Salamis over to Paphos."
"Yes, I'm returning now, and I must admit to missing my home."
"How long have you been away?"
"I've been visiting my daughter and her family in Athens; conducted a little business in Rhodes. By the time I return home it will have been a year since I last saw it."
The man huddled in a heap at the base of the mast pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, belched quietly, and rolled his eyes heavenward in abject misery.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Diomedes pressed.
His companion drew fresh air into his lungs to counteract the rising bile in his belly. "I've been rude. Forgive me. This unsettled sea has made me miserable in both body and spirit. My name is Paul -- of Tarsus."
"Well, Paul, I do know how you feel. It took me many sailings to get over the sea sickness."
"It's so embarrassing," Paul muttered. "I've been on many voyages. So long as it is calm, I'm fine. But my constitution has never acclimated to the acrobatics of an unsettled sea."
"Crackers. I should have thought of it earlier," Diomedes said, rummaging through the bag at his side. "An old sea hand once told me. Never sail without them. They work like magic." He passed Paul a handful of coarse, unleavened crisps.
"Looks like Passover," Paul said, grinning for the first time.
"Go ahead. Fix you right up," Diomedes coaxed, like a doctor prodding his patient to take the medicine he had just prescribed. Paul bit into the thin crusty bread, chewed slowly without enthusiasm. "There you go. Be better in no time."
The wind gusted, pushed against the two travelers huddled at the center of the deck, as overhead it whistled with a lonely whine through the ropes that passed up and through the sail, then over the top edge of the heavy yard. The cold mist pressed in around them, and the ship's timbers groaned under the relentless weight and thrust of the rolling waves.
The gray daylight was quickly fading toward an early dusk. Though they were surrounded on all sides by miles of empty sea, the two men felt the dense atmosphere close in around them like a room with its walls drawing in on itself. And, not even aware they were doing it, the two strangers edged closer to each other beneath the creaking mast.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Eccles. 4:9-12
Suddenly the hatch flew open, pushed from the inside, and a fair-haired young man popped his head out.
"Paul! Are you all right out here?"
"Yes, Luke. I'm fine. Go back inside."
"We're worried about you. Silas thinks I should come out and sit with you."
"Tell Silas I already have a companion," motioning toward Diomedes, "and that the Lord will protect us from the elements."
"Hello sir," Luke greeted Diomedes. "Thank you for your trouble."
"It's no trouble."
"By the way, Luke," Paul said, "why didn't you prescribe crackers for my woes."
"Crackers?" Luke twisted his face into a mask of frowning curiosity.
"My new friend, Diomedes -- whom, I might add, does not have your credentials as a learned physician -- prescribed them as a remedy for my unsettled belly. And -- praise God -- they have brought me relief." "Crackers?" the perplexed doctor repeated.
"Yes, crackers." Paul's eyes twinkled with bemused affection for his young companion. "You may wish to make note of this miracle cure in your journal."
"Yes, perhaps." And with that Luke lowered himself back down the ladder and closed the hatch after him.
"Every man should have friends with such concern for his well-being," Diomedes volunteered after Luke had left them.
"I'm most fortunate, yes," Paul answered.
"Are they business associates?"
Paul chuckled over the thought. "In a manner of speaking. You might say that we are about the business of our Lord Jesus Christ."
"Ah yes, I wondered," Diomedes nodded his head. "I've heard of this prophet -- and those who spread his teachings."
"Then you're not a believer in the Way."
"The way to God through Christ. The way of the cross."
"No. I am not."
Paul nodded his head politely. "The night is yet young," he said, smiling, and they laughed together like two old friends who have agreed to disagree.
"And what is your destination?" Diomedes asked.
"No, no. Jerusalem, and then Antioch."
Diomedes turned toward Paul and, quite unexpectedly serious, gazed upon his face for a long time. "You are a man of many homes, aren't you, Paul of Tarsus?"
After a moment's thought, Paul answered, "Yes. I suppose I am."
"That can be a lonely life."
Paul gazed out past Diomedes, toward the cresting waves that continued to pester the boat, toward the gray distance in which no discernible shapes could be seen. When he finally spoke it was with the accumulated thousands of miles he had traveled since that momentous day on the road to Damascus -- it was with the accumulated knowledge and experience that had been poured into him since coming to know Jesus Christ as God, and Lord.
"Before He returned to the Father, Jesus promised to send a comforter -- the Holy Spirit -- who would remain with us. And He kept His promise; the Spirit is my constant companion, no matter where I am. Still, it is a lonely life -- or can be -- traveling around the world to tell others of Christ.
"But I serve a gracious God who sends others to help as well."
"Other spirits?" Diomedes asked.
"Other people. You live on Cyprus, yet even on that island you've heard of Jesus because He has followers there. There are, already, followers of the Way scattered all over the world."
"It has been suggested that the ways of God are melancholy unpleasant ways, solitary and sorrowful; and therefore then those that feared God studied to evince the contrary by their cheerfulness in mutual love and converse, that they might 'put to silence the ignorance of foolish men'. When seducers were busy to deceive and to possess unwary souls with prejudices against religion, those that feared God were industrious to arm themselves and one another against the contagion by mutual instructions, excitements, and encouragements, and to strengthen one another's hands. As evil communication corrupts good minds and manners, so good communication confirms them." Matthew Henry