Acts 5:27-42 Gamaliel’s Freedom

I’ve talked about control many times while writing this blog, and now I think it’s time to share something I was given near the beginning of my training as a Spiritual Director in the Wellstreams Program here in Columbus. Many of the handouts we received had been photocopied many times, some of them probably from mimeographs, and they didn’t always attribute their source, so I’m not sure where this came from originally. If anyone knows, please comment so that I can give credit where it’s due. I present this now in honor of Gamaliel, who in the 5th chapter of Acts shows the movement from compulsion to contemplation, and exhibits a freedom that the other members of the council don’t have. I’ll say more about him at the bottom of this post.

Movement from Compulsion to Contemplation

Compulsive Living Contemplative Living
Driven approach to life Open-ended & free-flowing approach
Narrow vision of reality Expansive vision of reality
Control; rigidity Surrender; spontaneity
Obsessed & anxious Accepting & serene
Holding on; possessiveness Letting go; freedom
Past & future oriented Living in the present moment
Self-absorbed Self-aware
Strong defenses Necessary defenses/vulnerability
Self-disgust & self-hatred Self-acceptance & self-love
Emotional distance; dissonance with self Intimacy with self, God, & others
Dealing with people Relating to people
Inordinate desires True longing for God
Cluttered inner space Empty inner space
False self Authentic self
Emphasis on pleasure Emphasis on true joy
Childish Childlike
Partially living Fully human & alive

It’s important to think of yourself while reading this list, and be honest about which compulsive impulses and which contemplative impulses are most alive in you. This list provides a very helpful lens when considering the conflict between the disciples and the authorities in Acts. The authorities are driven, have a narrow view of reality, try to maintain control, and have anxiety attacks about the future, based on a too vibrant awareness of the past. In comparison to them, the disciples are just wandering around, praying in the temple and healing whomever they pass. They’re spontaneous and serene, and every reaction they have with other people, including the authorities, is authentic.

Gamaliel is somewhere between these two extremes, just like most of us. He’s not a disciple, but as a pharisee he shares some of their beliefs, and has a better understanding of them than the priests and sadducees. He has a greater trust in God than his co-council members do as well. Let’s relax, he says, and let this play out. More than that, let’s accept that God is in control, not us, and that surprising things can happen that we can’t expect. What’s surprising is that the rest of the council members can also sense the benefits of the contemplative life, although only vaguely, which allows them, at least for the moment, to agree with him.

Karl Stevens
Karl Stevens is an Episcopal priest, a spiritual director, and a writer and artist. As a priest he has served as a college chaplain, a parish priest, a diocesan missioner, and a director of children and youth formation. As a spiritual director he has worked privately with directees and led groups of other directors in organizing retreats and special events. As an artist, he co-curated the EASE Gallery, created a series of paintings on the Stations of the Cross that have been used by area churches, and displays work and writings on kpbstevens.com. In addition to all of this, he is the co-host of the Lost in the Wilderness podcast, along with Rabbi Daniel Bogard. He is married with one child and lives in Grandview Heights.