May 27, 2009

Telling the Conversion Story

As an adult convert, the telling of the conversion story becomes a regular part of religious practice. You are called upon to tell your story to brothers and sisters who also marvel at God's grace, but also to people who are just curious. You also have an awareness of the conversion story as an internal narrative that forms a kind of self-apology in the consciousness of yourself as a praying person.

Since the day of my Baptism almost seventeen years ago, I have told my "conversion story" more times than I know, both to myself and to others. What is fascinating to me is how the story has changed.

My sense of my conversion story has changed in two basic ways: it's starting point has been steadily retreating to an earlier point in my earthly life, and the agency of the story has been shifting away from me and onto God.

When someone asked me to tell my story around the time of my Baptism, I started the story a couple of years before, when I became interested in this or that, concerned about what it meant to be a human being in this or that way, how I picked up the gospel of St. Matthew on a hot summer night and read the Sermon on the Mount, and how my inability to know any criteria by which I might "choose" a church was my first school of the surrender of prayer.

But as time went on, the starting point of the story retreated into the past. After a couple of years I realized the importance of choices and influences that came upon me several years before. My discovery of punk rock and hardcore rock and roll, for instance, was helping me to make the "critical turn," to know that the values and given wisdom about the world were not always the best or what the heart really wanted. An interest in mathematics combined with the awakening of reading Plato for the first time had both helped me to understand what it is meant by a spiritual reality.

Even later I began to remember certain experiences of the Infinite Mystery that I had when I was real little. Returning to such experiences from time to time in prayer, I have begun to see how God was drawing me into the grace of prayer--unaware as I was--even from early childhood. This helped me to understand certain spotty attractions to Christ crucified and to the life of faith that I also experienced as a kid.

All this is to say that it has been an amazing experience to see my conversion story unfold backwards. When I was baptized I thought that this was a process I had begun a year or two before, but now I can see it as something that was going on as far back as I can remember.

All of this makes for the second shift in my consciousness of my conversion story, which is the question of the main character. When I was baptized, I admit that it was mostly me. I had decided to do this bold thing because of what I had to come to believe and to desire. More and more I know that this is a story about God and not about me; about how God--in his tremendous mercy--has given me the opportunity to be relieved of the tyranny of my life being about me. In other words, it's not my conversion story anymore. It's a story about grace in which I play a supporting role, and not even very well. But that doesn't matter, honestly. God is so good, who cares about me?


pennyante said...

"'s not my conversion story anymore. It's a story about grace in which I play a supporting role, and not even very well."

How beautiful and insightful... It will be a source of meditation for me today. Thank you...

Jeanne said...

Will your post your own conversation story in full one day? I'm always amazed and inspired by others' stories. I am also amazed by how many adult converts I have met in the last five years. My own pastor is an adult convert, converting from his Baptist roots to Roman Catholicism then entering the Benedictine order and finally ending up as our pastor.His story and others I have heard are so inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Ad multos annos !

ben in denver said...

It is interesting that your experience of being an adult convert is so different from mine.

I have only very very rarely been asked to tell my conversion story. My conversion really formed a discreet rupture in my life. I have only one friend today with whom I was friends prior to conversion--and he lives a thousand miles away. My realtionships with members of my family of origin have been strained by joining a church they do not really approve of, so my contact with them has diminished.

Most of the people I see on a regular basis are simply not aware that I'm an adult convert. The subject of conversion and life prior to conversion just doesn't come up. Often, when people find out that I'm not a cradle catholic, they are quite surprised. I answer questions about the how and why of conversions by citing the action of the Holy Spirit, and I don't get many questions about it.