More than twenty years ago I began to learn something of the meaning of Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endure the cross, depising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” That is to say, I was beginning to learn the role of those witnesses in this asketical struggle.
Yes, as a good Protestant, I’d read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. And by then I’d learned the discipline of daily Bible reading–thanks to the Navigators and my paternal grandparents. (One can never underestimate the influence of both sets of my grandparents on my faith, the one of sound doctrine and the other of a muscular exertion of discipleship. Though God knows I could not have articulated it this way when I was younger.) But, and here is where my learning began a quarter century ago, the heroes of the Scriptures and the heroes of Foxe were so large and magnified in my mind that they seemed hardly exemplars and more as miracles. Both of course are true of them, but it only meant a great imaginative distance in my mind, and therefore remote, in terms of witness, from my daily living. No, I needed more “modern,” examples.