Surrounded by a Puff of Witnesses

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
'Whispy Little Cloud on Blue Sky' photo (c) 2008, D. Sharon Pruitt - license:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” – Hebrews 12:1

One thing I appreciated during my visit with the monks of St. Benard Abbey was the way in which we were constantly reminded of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. 

Watching over our prayers from the church’s clerestory were ten giant stone figures, hand-cut from white Alabama Limestone.  They included Melchizedek, King David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, St. Benedict, Gregory the Great, St. Bede, St. Boniface, St. Anselm, and St. Bernard.  At meals, the monks commemorated those saints, friends, and fellow Benedictines who had died on that day, and to my surprise, read  through a biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran) written by Eric Metaxas (an Evangelical).  Each night I meditated on the Psalms and read the writings of Julian of Norwich, Therese of Liseux, Kathleen Norris, and Madeleine L’Engle. I befriended the lady next door and we exchanged email addresses before we left.  It was a time of sweet solitude, but I never felt alone. 

I used to think that the only true Christians were “Bible-Believing Born-Again Evangelicals” like me, the kind of people who voted for Republicans, rejected evolution, walked the Romans Road, and prayed the Sinner’s Prayer. Anyone else who claimed to follow Jesus was regarded with suspicion at best, condemnation at worst. Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox Christians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Mennonites,  Quakers, Emergents, and whoever I deemed “lukewarm” or “liberal” were kept at arm’s length, their saints and their theologians written off as irrelevant. Despite the fact that I belonged to the most popular religion in the world, I believed I was part of an oppressed minority, battling to protect the "true faith." 

My world was small. 

My faith was lonely. 

My cloud of witnesses was more like a puff

I am so grateful that God changed all of that and brought into my life the people and the literature of other Christian traditions. They have enriched my faith, challenged my beliefs, and deepened my relationships. They have added additional leaves to my communion table, and shown me that the common call of Christ is more important than the different hymns we sing or the different theologies we study. I know Jesus better because I know them. 

Now, some of my old friends don’t like this at all. They want me to rejoin the oppressed minority and battle on with judgment and condemnation against anyone who practices Christianity a little differently than they do. When I refuse, they question my commitment to Jesus and write me off as just another “so-called” Christian whose faith is suspect and whose eternal destiny questionable. How I wish they could see that they are not fighting the Enemy; they are fighting their own brothers and sisters in Christ! How I wish they could experience the joy of having a great crowd cheer them on. 

Their world is so small. 

Their faith is so lonely. 

Their cloud of witnesses is more like a puff. 

And that’s no way to run a race. 


Are you surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses or a puff?

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