Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Spark of Faith-Conversion Part I
Everybody who plumbs the depths of their faith probably has a conversion or reversion story in there somewhere. This being the beginning of a happy new year, tucked into the year of St. Paul and a week or so prior to the feast day of his conversion, I've decided to commit mine to the blogosphere so that in might give live on in posterity (and give some of you a few laughs)! Besides, I like to read the conversions & reversions of others, so why not add my own to the mix?
I was always "spiritually-minded" in a sense. I never had a doubt that there was a God in heaven and my early childhood was sympathetic to curiousities about a God of the universe who had immense power, strength and love. My folks decided, for their own good reasons, to delay baptism for me, the youngest child and only daughter in the family. My brothers were both baptized Methodists in my Mom's tradition but we were never threatened with church-going unless it was Christmas. I essentially learned that they figured it was best that we all "make our own decisions" about religion later on in life; something that I ungrudgingly but vehemently disagree with now as a parent. My mom once gave me a magazine cut out of The Lord's Prayer - retrieved from, ironically, Better Homes and Gardens, which I hung in my bedroom on a styrofoam bulletin board. Sometimes I prayed the Our Father when I was by myself. I also remember saying the bedtime prayer...."Now I lay me down to sleep" and I modified the ending to say: "There are 4 corners on my bed and 2 angels at my head, now God bless everybody; Amen". I was also very taken with a particular good shepherd nightlight-picture that was hung in my room (see above). It was fun to turn off all the other lights and just have this one illuminated showing (as my 16-yr old would lament) a way too "politically correct" image of our Lord. To this day, I still have this image hung at my bedside. And yes,he still thinks it's too "white".
I was probably about 7 years old when I decided to test the God of my understanding. From the refrigerator, I absconded with a corsage my mom had worn from a recent dinner party. I took it upstairs to my bedroom where I placed it on the plastic stool of my small vanity, right below the Good Shepherd picture. I really wanted God to show Himself and accept my little floral offering. We lived near a blasting quarry where a few times per week they would blast for salt. Sometimes the jarring from blasts had the ability to loosen the floorboards. On this particular evening and as it happened, right in the middle of my petition to the Lord... bet you can imagine what happened next? A rather large blast permeated the house causing the Good Shepherd picture to quake right off the wall and fall to the floor. A first! I don't remember regaining my composure, or flying down the stairs until I appeared, ashen from the fright, in front of mom who asked what in heck I had been up to. "Nothin'". I'm not sure how my little 7-year old brain processed this event at the time. I do know that I never attempted that circus stunt again and that it also left an indelible memory almost as fresh today as it was then. It is my belief that most folks grope around for a visible/physical sense of God and what we end up doing is forming attachments to these characteristics of God in people/places and things. It works for awhile, until God pushes us to deeper conversion. I'll get into that later.
Somewhere around 1579, shortly after his escape from the mean monks who imprisoned him, St. John of the Cross drew a sketch of paths up a mountain to protray the spiritual life. Along the pathways, the soul seeks God in all kinds of good things however realizes that God is "not this, not that". Even at the top of the mountain, God is no-thing. Nada. No matter how hard we try, we cannot seem to grasp with our senses what God actually IS. We cannot see Him face to face. We cannot wrap our minds around him mentally for that matter. But that doesn't stop us from trying. In the words of Gerald May from his Book, "Dark Night of the Soul", he writes..."Thus every part of us is, at its core, a desire for love's fulfillment. Though we seldom recognize it, our senses seek the beauty, the sweetness, the good feelings of God. Our mind seeks the truth and wisdom of God. Our will seeks to live out the goodness, the righteousness of God. Our memory and imagination seek the justice and peace of God. In other words, we yearn for the attibutes of God with every part of ourselves. Human beings are two-legged, walking, talking desires for God." Or in the words of one of my favorite saints, Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you. (St. Augustine).
Later on, St. John and St. Augustine both were immensely important figures to me on my journey of faith and their writing and espcially the influences of Carmelite spirituality continue to be guiding forces for me as I struggle in my own Dark Nights.
Next post...Conversion part II: Something Lutheran happened to me on the way to Rome.