Rector's Blog: Conversions - Pt. 1
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I was 20 years old, walking a trail on the side of a hill in Northwestern Italy when I heard God speak to me. I was by myself, having walked far ahead of my traveling companions, and I was stuck in my head. These particular hills are right on the edge of the Ligurian Sea, and every single view is breathtaking, and I was paying attention to none of them. I was too busy being heartbroken. Throughout college I was mostly involved with one person, and our relationship ended and began again a couple times. This was one of the times it had ended.
I rounded a corner and looked up and outward despite myself. Water. So much water. And I remember thinking that this sea had been here so long before I was ever a person and would be here so long after I was gone. I was so small. My sadness was so small. There was so much more than me. Look, I know this was not the most profound or original thought, but I was a heartbroken 20-year-old in Italy. It was enough to shake me out of my doldrums and open me up to everything that was around me. And as I looked out on the sea, I heard God say, “You believe in me.”
It was not a command so much as an observation. God was letting me know something that was true about me. And it mattered. As I have mentioned, I was not, in that exact moment, thinking about God. I was thinking about a girl. And I wasn’t praying or meditating or anything like that. I was not seeking spiritual enlightenment or comfort. I had not invited God into my heart or into the conversation at all really. But there God was. Telling me I believed.
For God’s part, they didn’t mention my ex-girlfriend or say any comforting words, or even tell me to get over myself or pay attention to the horizon or quote poetry or Scripture. God didn’t wait around for any follow-up questions. Just, “You believe in me.”
I had been raised Christian but had left my church as a teenager with no intention of returning to organized religion. I had not been traumatized and did not leave angrily. But I increasingly did not see a place for myself in it. In the intervening time, I self-described as Christian, but spent a lot of time really wondering if I believed God was real at all. It really bothered me that I couldn’t prove God’s existence. I mean, really bothered me. Somehow, in my childhood, I had assumed God was obvious, and when God became anything but obvious, and the church could no longer guilt or scare me into saying I believed, God shifted to an idea or a concept more than a divine being. I was even slightly embarrassed that any of the God stuff mattered to me. It did not seem very cool to care. But I did. I always did. I had no idea what to do with God. And then God spoke.
“You believe in me,” God said, and in that moment, I knew that was true. And at least for that moment and a few moments afterward, I didn’t feel the need to prove or argue or guarantee it. I just knew I believed in God. What’s more, I knew I was Christian. My faith has taken many turns since then. So many things are not clear to me. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all made up. Priests aren’t supposed to say that, but here we are. Time and time again I keep realizing I believe. And whenever I do, I remember that moment. I know what I heard. That was my conversion. That was the moment I decided to act as if.
There are two reasons I hesitate to tell that story. The first is that I am afraid people will think it’s silly; That this moment was fanciful and wishful and had more to do with romantic indigestion than divine intervention. “You have hinged your faith on that?” The second reason I hesitate is I don’t ever feel like I will do the moment justice in words. Because regardless of what anyone thinks, regardless even of what I think, who I am right now can be traced back to that hillside and that sea and that heartbreak and that day.
Maybe there is a third reason I don’t talk about this. When I do tell people this story, they often confess they have not had such a conversion experience. And I feel strange, because I do not feel better than them, more holy, more enlightened. I know people who have never had a clear conversion experience whose faith is much deeper and more mature than my own. I know people who don’t believe in any kind of God who are kinder, smarter, and more lovely than me. I am practically allergic to a lot of the language that surrounds conversion. I don’t think I found Jesus that day. I don’t even know what it means to find Jesus. I didn’t know he was hiding.
But I heard God. God told me something that was true, and since then I have decided to follow Jesus.
My story is just that: My own. Yours is different. The way we became who we are should not be a spiritual litmus test. But I wanted to tell this story, at least in part, in order to be open about how I experience God. I’m going to talk more about conversion next week. If you are not sure about all this conversion talk, and you haven’t heard a voice on a mountain and you’re wondering if it’s all made up – next week is for you. Stay tuned.
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