Friday, June 29, 2012

a woman named Damaris

I borrow the title of my post from the title of a book by Janette Oke. But, as she borrowed it from Acts 17 I don't feel too badly about that.

It's probably been 15 years since I read the short piece of historical(ish) fiction, but I remember the general idea surrounding the name. The woman in the book had always heard that her name was a Biblical name, but didn't know the significance. One day, someone shows her where that name is found in the Bible and how it is a very significant name indeed. As a result of that short novel, the name and it's associated implications has always stuck with me.

Acts 17 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. Paul is in the midst of his missionary travels and he is Athens where he gives a message proclaiming Jesus as God while standing at the altar "to the unknown God." The Athenians remind me a lot of our contemporary culture (at least that of the Western developed world) - they spent time listening and asked to hear more, but it is recorded in Acts that "all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." (17:21)

After Paul gives his message at the Areopagus the crowed reacted in various ways. Some mocked, some said they would listen to more.

However, there at the end of chapter 17 we see that for a few Athenians the words Paul spoke went deeper than simply another new idea. We see that some joined Paul and believed the message. Among them were "Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris" (17:34).

And, that's all we get on Damaris.

Like the character Damaris in the Oke novel, it would be easy to dismiss this as "what's the big deal?" at a literal one-off mention in the entire Bible.

But, indeed, it is a big deal.

In a city of "tolerance," where ideas flowed and people enjoyed the pleasure of thinking without ever really grasping a solid truth, she was one of a few who decided to commit to an idea and believe.

We can assume that the fact that her name was mentioned and that she was at the Aeropagus, the court of Athens, in the first place means she was a woman of some social standing. She likely had something to lose, if only her reputation as a reasonable person, for choosing to believe in Paul's message rather than to just listen. Perhaps the mockery of family or friends. If she was indeed a woman of social standing and wealth, she would likely be giving up that in order to follow Christ. In a culture where it was completely acceptable to entertain ideas without accepting anything specific, she chose to be counter-cultural. It mattered.

While looking up information on Damaris I discovered that there is a street named for her in modern Athens. She is honored as a saint in some Christian traditions. Her legacy of belief is long-lasting.

1 comment:

  1. I ALWAYS wonder about Damaris when I read that chapter (a favorite of mine too, btw). Happy to hear that she has a street named after her. Great is her reward in heaven too!