Shipwrecked on Malta

We stumbled into Malta this last week, tripping over ourselves after 30 hours of transport through 10 time zones. Among the lost: a night and a half of sleep, mental clarity, familial affection, two blogs and a hair dryer, scorched by the very first jolt of European electricity. But Malta has been so worth it:





While here, we missed a massive storm in Kodiak, where it blew over 100 mph. (Our house is on one of these cliffs. We hope it's still there!)

Kodiak Storm---Judy Heller photographer.jpg

I've been thinking of storms all this week in Malta, this tiny island nation in the middle of the Mediterranean. I'm here because of the storm that shipwrecked the Apostle Paul nearly 2000 years ago. 


St Paul shipwreck.jpg

Soon after landing here, we spent the evening with Mark Gatt, the man who made an astonishing discovery in 2005. He is a rescue diver, and on one of his dives he found the massive stock of an ancient anchor barely protruding from the sandy bottom of a bay. Other anchors have been found, but this one was special. It was inscribed with  "Isis" and "Serapis," two Egyptian gods.


Many scholars believe Paul was on board an Egyptian grain ship filled with corn or wheat, with 275 other souls on board as well, many of them slaves.  This was no luxury cruise for him; he was a prisoner being taken to Rome for trial. He was committing the unspeakable crime of teaching the good news that freed the guilty, fed the hungry, uplifted women, empowered slaves, teachings that upset all the usual tyrants and powers.

This morning, Mark took us out in his little red Zodiak. We bounced and skimmed the waters off Malta to St. Paul's island, where a statue commemorates his presence.



(The historic news is that the ship foundered not in St. Paul's Bay or on St. Paul's Island, as tradition places it, but rather one bay east of there, in Salinas Bay.)  After this visit, directed by his depth-finder, Mark drove us to the next bay to the spot where he had found the anchor in 2005. It's just another quadrant of water, but the sand bottom beneath this bay has told another story. It is there and there only where numerous artifacts have been found:  all from the same era, and likely all from the same ship. There is ample evidence by scholars and others to suggest this is indeed wreckage from Paul's ship. 


Mr. Gatt has even spoken to the Pope about his remarkable find.

mark gatt with pope.jpg

(Mark has written a compelling account here of the findings and has also produced a DVD that tells of the discoveries and their significance:


Malta has never been the same since Paul's swim to shore. He spent 3 months here teaching the gospel and healing the sick nearly 2000 years ago and because of it, there are more than 360 churches here, many of them dedicated to the Apostle. Paul is the patron saint of this unique  island nation, still considered the "most religious country in Europe."

And I, us, what of us?  Is my faith stronger because I have touched this ancient anchor?


leslie with st pauls anchor.JPG
(Do you see the lettering, "ISIS"?)

(Do you see the lettering, "ISIS"?)

I'm thankful for Mark's passion and faith and his great generosity in sharing his knowledge with us. I get excited over Biblical archeology and am unspeakably grateful to be traveling around the MIddle East for months this year following Paul's tracks. Honestly, I am still trying to process the presence of this anchor.  One thing I know: being here paradoxically reminds me that my faith does not depend on the ruins, on the cities, on the artifacts I see and even touch. Yes, the archeological evidence supports the historical veracity of the Scriptures.  If we claim something is true, it helps to have visible evidence.

 But I also know I believe not in what is dead, inert, wrecked, ruined. I believe in the Living Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, that impelled Paul and all the apostles to carry the good news of freedom and forgiveness around the world . .. the same Spirit that brought me these many thousands of miles to this very place. Even, remarkably, to the man who found the anchor.

There is so much I want to praise here, but this one piece is all my travel-rattled mind can grasp:  The Christ that Paul joyfully served in chains and in shipwreck 2000 years ago is the same living Christ that I serve today. (Do I really get to serve Him?) 

In this ancient walled city  I know more than ever,

     Our God is alive      still

freeing and forgiving,

filling and compelling,

loving and empowering.

This is our anchor. 


(A facsimile of the massive anchor) 

(A facsimile of the massive anchor) 

cross on St Paul island.JPG

Kodiak's Wrecked Beach, How to Carry the Wreckage + Giveaways!

     When this new year began, we went to our favorite beach on Kodiak Island. It was a rare calm day after a series of massive storms and deluges (3 inches of rain in a single day last week, followed by more and more, and an unrelenting wind . . . )

This gorgeous beach, an hour out of town, always has surf, always has something to say even when the wind is silent. And this day it did. Small waves of argument, enough to ride two surfing women.  

And it offered as well a beach full of wreckage. I had not seen this beach both so beautified and so littered before. 

Sea sponges, pulled from their habitat in astonishing numbers . ...

An alphabet of colors and shapes and sizes of once living things  . . . 

Beautiful, haunting, even devastating. Much of it no longer living, some still dying, marooned on the sand. In all ways, though, living, dying or dead, the colors still steal the sun's light . ..

And not all is beauty . ..

Among it all, the sea cast up questions. Creatures I do not know, that I have not seen often, and never this many before . ..

   (Alert readers have tentatively identified these as species of tunicates.) 

 The year is new and young. I am full of hope and plans and there is so much to celebrate. But, this week I have also felt like that beach. 
    The past so often intrudes upon us. In a moment, something flashes and we're back. We're back among the slights and meanness and persecutions we've known in one form or another. Some for many years. Some live in the midst of sexism and prejudice. Some have come through poverty and racism. Some of you have lived in houses of addiction, in other places where the mentally ill controlled your life. 

              There it is. The injustices and inequities we all have borne litter our beach. The year is new, but storms have ripped the past from their root and washed it all ashore again. 

How do we rejoice in a new year when the past is still with us? What do we do with all that detritus? If we are the surviving kind, we find a way to gather up all that junk and we just keep moving. But the weight encumbers.  We feel as though we are dragging the wreckage of a whole beach behind us.

It takes a whole book to say all I want to say on this (and some of you have read it here  already )

And there's nothing I can tell you that will make it all disappear. But I know how to make the load lighter. 

You know that everyone's beach has at least one wreck on it, yes?  We don't get to live through a life, let alone a year without some waves, some uprooting, some wash-ups, a cluttered line marking the high tides.  Yes you are utterly special and unique and your pain is unique but we all carry the pains of our shared humanness and selfishness.

But you know that. 

Just two more things---and we already do them when we walk a beach: Look at what you find and name it. This is our beach walking habit already. But it's not always a life habit. I know some who will not look at the flotsam in their life, who will deny it, erase it, pretend their beach is clean. 

Who wants to walk an empty beach?

No one's beach is clean. You'll waste what's come ashore without looking, holding, listening, naming . ..

                                      (fin whale skeleton)

                                    (Giant acorn barnacle)

One more. Do not pity this scavenging woman. I am her. All of us who live out on distant beaches collecting all we find are her. (The foundation of our house at Harvester Island is built from logs that drifted to shore.)  She is collecting what has drifted to shore to strengthen and beautify her own door. She will build and rebuild with what has come to her beach. As we do. As we all must do. 

                                                                                (My sons' driftwood fort)

Listen. What looks like wreckage in your life still has value. Don't discard it. Use it. Find the good in it. Build your house and life stronger with it. That's why it's been delivered to you. 

"We wear memories in our faces, in the whorls and folds of our brains; we bear scars and burns on our bodies.  Even when we desire to give up the memories that have formed us and even haunt us – we cannot.  Nor should we.  Patricia Hampl urges us to remember because, “we do not … simply have experience; we are entrusted with it.  We must do something – make something – with them . . ."  (Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers)

How do we do this? Start toward forgiveness. 

If you don't know how (and who does?), consider the book, which walks us through forgiveness of anyone who has hurt us.

(I cannot tell you how many have written to share the freedom and joy they've found through forgiveness . . ..)

I'm giving 5 of these away in the next few days. (I'd like to give you ALL a book---but until my ship comes in--and doesn't wreck on the beach!---I can only do 5!) 

  If you'll share this post on Facebook and anywhere else you can, let me know, and I'll enter your name in the drawing. 

I'm hoping and praying MANY can start the new year---bringing beauty out of wreckage.