The year 2020 has been a year so far that has called me to c-o-n-v-e-r-s-i-o-n. COVID-19 which has swept across the world, months of isolation, loss of so much ministry that had been built up by so many of my sisters, the breaking open of the tragic wound of racism and the violence that has filled our streets….
Nothing is as we expected.
Everything has been a surprise.
This moment alone is the entry into the still-point of presence
the heart-presence where wisdom lies.
When I think of conversion, my soul flies first to the conversion of my father, St Paul.
On his way to Damascus to carry out what he thought was what was supposed to happen…
Something unexpected happened
Everything was a surprise
The moment was the entry point where Jesus could slip into his heart
I had my plans for 2020. We all did. Right now I can’t even remember what they were. Can you?
They seem unimportant. Trivial. Like I spent alot of time about alot of things that…well…from today’s vantage point don’t seem all that important.
Either I learned I could live without what once I felt entitled to have or do.
I discovered how quickly the conversation and plans could change.
I’ve discovered after many long mornings with extra time to pray and reflect, that I want something different. That I don’t like “normal” anymore.
I took the isolated weeks to rediscover solitude, to recover from my fragmented craziness, and to be razor sharp about what I believe is God’s call for me going forward.
The onion skin of failures, hurts, memories, beliefs, desires have started to fall away and the beauty of the inward Fountain that leaps up to eternal life is nourishing once again my soul.
Paul had his plans also. He was a good man, well-intentioned. Thought he was doing the right thing. Really we all are well-intentioned, but the music of our life is a bit out of harmony, distorted, perhaps flat or out of tune. When Jesus bursts into our life, we are surprised. Like Paul we may feel blinded by what we discover, or hear, or sense. These threshold moments allow us to step into our souls overcome by the vision of the Almighty bending low to bring us gently into his embrace, his plan, his tender forgiveness that wipes away the normal and creates something we could never have imagined.
Paul could never have planned out his life. The journeys, the struggles, the visions, the theology, the imprisonments, his final witness to Jesus. I remember staying a whole afternoon at Tre Fontaine outside Rome where I prayed before the pillar that is said to be where Paul was beheaded. Paul slipped into my heart that afternoon. His spirit, his courage, the mystic orchestra of his entire being captured by the love of Jesus. Yes. Only Jesus could surprise Paul with a change of life so complete, so beautiful, so graced…a life that would bless every Christian till the end of time.
Another person I think of when I consider conversion is St Augustine. While Paul speaks of blindness until the moment of his baptism, Augustine tells us of being overcome with light in the innermost places of his being. I have experienced, as I am sure have you, this blindness, when we are for a time knocked off course by something, until we find ourselves moved into a life that can only be of God’s design.
But I’ve also experienced this overwhelming light, when I knew that within me is the One who is above me, who made me, who loves me.
Augustine describes it this way in his Confessions:
Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance into the inmost depth of my soul. I was able to do so because you were my helper. On entering into myself I saw, as it were with the eye of the soul, what was beyond the eye of the soul, beyond my spirit: your immutable light. … This light was above me because it has made me; I was below it because I was created by it. He who has come to know the truth knows this light.
O Eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity. You are my God. To you do I sigh day and night. When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself so that I might see that there were things for me to see, but that I myself was not yet ready to see them. Meanwhile you overcame the weakness of my vision, sending forth most strongly the beams of your light, and I trembled at once with love and dread. I learned that I was in a region unlike yours and far distant from you, and I thought I heard your voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men; grow then, and you will feed on me. Nor will you change me into yourself like bodily food, but you will be changed into me.”
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace
Both St Paul and St Augustine knew that their experience of God was not meant for them alone. Neither is our conversion meant for us alone. They and we are “positioned” on the world stage to play our part in the drama of God’s heart and each person’s eternal salvation. Here are some quotes I’m reflecting on in these deeply disturbing times, the words of these great converts that strengthen me as witness to Christ, as they were before me, in world’s turbulence as it plays out today.
Be strong in the Lord
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” – Ephesians 6:10-18
We are the times
Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times. ST. AUGUSTINE, Sermons
Don’t hold yourselves cheap
Don’t hold yourselves cheap, seeing that the creator of all things and of you estimates your value so high, so dear, that he pours out for you every day the most precious blood of his only-begotten Son. ST. AUGUSTINE, Sermons
Bear you share of suffering for the Gospel
“Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago,and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do.” – 2 Timothy 1:8-11
Kingdoms without justice
“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms?” ― Augustine of Hippo, City of God
Cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred
“He who lives according to God ought to cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred, so that he shall neither hate the man because of his vice nor love the vice because of the man.” ― Augustine of Hippo, City of God
A new creation
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
No, I do not want it to remain the way it was before. No, I don’t want a new normal.
I want the new creation
I want justice and peace
I want to fight against the powers of darkness at work in the world
I want to tell everyone how dearly they are loved
I want to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One thought on “I want conversion, not a “new normal””
Great writing and reflections!
Thank you so much, Sister Kathryn!
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