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!)
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.
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 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?
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.