August 17, 2009

The Convert Vertigo

At the end of the month will be my anniversaries of Baptism and first Holy Communion. It's been seventeen years. If you throw in my catechumenate and time as a serious 'seeker,' I've spent almost half of my time on earth preoccupied with how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

For the convert, God always retains a kind of adventitious character; He is a God who--at least from our limited perspective--seemed to arrive at a certain point, with a Voice that was quiet and obscure but nevertheless insistent and unrelenting.

Once in a while it occurs to me to try to imagine what my life might have been like had this whole thing not happened to me. As the years go by it gets harder and harder to guess. This is part of what I call the 'convert vertigo;' how our lives become increasingly impossible to narrate without first talking about grace. I suppose this is a process that approaches infinity as we prepare for our own death, when our own historical story is no more and there is only the eternity of God.

You notice it in how you tell the whole story to yourself and others. I know I have written about this before, but it's amazing and liberating how the 'conversion story' becomes less a story about yourself, of something you did, and more a story about how God delights to relate to His creation in which you are only a tiny illustration, and a somewhat dingy and distracting one at that. You start to realize, through a curious internal cocktail of fear, vertigo, gratitude, and liberation what Paul was talking about in Romans 6:3, that "we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death." In an increasingly real way, I know that this clever but bothered, smart but unmotivated kid named Charles was drowned to death in a little font in a sleepy suburban church seventeen summers ago.

Well, let him rest in peace. I always carried him as a burden anyway. Am I nostalgic for him? As long as I indulge feelings like that I impede grace and become less myself. That's the mystery of Christian death and life.

7 comments:

Evelyn said...

Your definition is fantastic! It's funny how the whole story of my life is centered on my conversion. I can't hardly introduce myself without mentioning that I'm Catholic.

ben in denver said...

How nice to see this post this morning.

I spent much of the weekend with relatives I have not seen in years who are very angry and resentful that the old ben lies dead at the bottom of the Jordan.

Pray for me and my family that we can provide a good witness. We will see them again on Wednesday.

It has been difficult for all of us. My eldest was ambushed with questions on Saturday when he rode in another car. They tried to goad him into resentment at being a member of a large family.

My poor daughter Maria spent a half an hour weeping yesterday because her little cousins aren't baptized.

pennyante said...

As a cradle Catholic, I have found over the years that I continually must come to conversion. Baptized as an infant, I had no choice but to be raised in this Faith. It was a done deal...

This created its own problems. Life happens and many times Faith was shallow because a true conversion experience had never occured. God was always present, but often not recognized.

One advantage for those who convert to the Catholic Faith is the journey and path taken is one of being led and then one's individual choice is made...

So, in my case, I find that I must be contually converted. As I age, I have found more meaning and understanding and believe I am finally headed in the right direction.

Again, thanks for addressing the issues in your own life... As you see, we often connect with them...

LM said...

I always get emotional when reading about others conversion. It always great to hear them. It gives me hope. Happy thoughts of reading or hearing my wife's conversion story. Then the very real fact that she may never convert. Then the paranoid or protective thought that she or at her parents would love to see my 4 kids abandon the Faith for their watered down seeker friendly church where you can text the pastor questions during his sermon.

Qualis Rex said...

Wow! VERY profound (as usual). I too am a "craddle-Catholic". But 90% of my family are now unbelievers/apostates. And as Pennyante says, I too must continuously "come to conversion" (I really like that phrase). I have no support network, save the few in my family who are also Catholic and my friends. So, it's basically on me. I hear about all the pressure people have in some families to go to confirmation, to adhere to Catholicism (or substitute any religion here), and I just never had that. So, my decision is "pure" and unobstructed. But that doesn't make it any less difficult.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

How beautifully you describe the Hound of Heaven and what He does to us. I used to take delight in independently cavorting in the bramble bushes, but now I have no desire for those bushes. I love being part of the flock.

4narnia said...

what a great and beautiful post, Fr. C! thank you for sharing! i read some of the comments and i believe that those "born" into the faith can have conversion experiences and/or remember specific times during life's journey when they felt God's prescence in a deeper and more profound way. the first time i felt a deeper awareness of God's prescence was during my year of preparing to receive Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion. i was only about 7-years-old, but that was a very deep and significant experience. there have been other significant moments, which maybe i'll have a chance to share. PEACE! ~tara t~