There is a Benedictine vow, which is called “Conversatio Morem.” The best translation of this term is something like ‘conversion of life,’ and it has this sense that in life we have conversion by our vows and most importantly, by our participation in the life of God.
I think if we consider how our life with God is more of a journey than one decisive moment; we might understand this idea of conversion of life as a continuous, on-going process. Because as many of us know, our lives are marked by any number of conversion experiences along the way, meaning: God is constantly pursuing us as beloved children.
In my own life, I might give about 8% of it to conversion moments—and while that might sound like a small percentage, you have understand that there just aren’t so many “defining moments” in life. Really, there are just a few here and there to punctuate all of the other moments—because, of course, it’s the living afterward that changes the course of life beyond the conversion ‘moment.’
I think this is the difficulty of conversion, that it is a process, and it’s likely that we won’t ever see its fullness in this life. What’s harder is that the growth in-between can be painful and messy because it happens in a messy world where painful things happen. Since the growth happens in the midst of life, it forces us then to pose our experiences with God against tragedy and all of the other things in life which make us second guess our faith.
For example, just this past week, a man in Wisconsin walked into a Sikh Temple and opened fire, killing 6 people who had come to worship. This of course comes less than a month after the shootings in Aurora, Colorado where James Holmes opened fire into a crowd at a movie theater killing 12 people and wounding 58. It’s a stark reminder of how dangerous our world can be, and more evidence against our claim at being a civilized society.
The reasons may have been different, but the violence in the acts, and the disturbing aftermath linger oppressively—for all of us.
No matter how much the media tempts us to become desensitized to loss of life by their aggrandizing and voyeurism; people of faith cannot so easily let it go… Because we’re forced to ask what all of it means in relation to Providence, and it questions the validity of our own experiences with God.
However, our faith is far from being an opiate to the pain of the world. We’re not given easy answers to difficult questions—nor are we allowed to hide our heads in sanctimonious sand. Because at its deepest level, our faith is brutally honest about pain and suffering. It never ignores the messiness of the world, but subsumes it, and absorbs it into itself so that the hopeful resolution in redemption can be realized. It’s the reason that we stand in the shadow of a crucified God, and is the reason we call ourselves by his name—Christians, or followers of Christ.
The point is, as people of the Christian faith, we never shy away from difficult or painful things, but instead deal with them by grace—a kind of grace that has seen numerous generations through equally impossible situations. Because somehow by the Spirit of God, and our faith community, we find a way forward. Even if we cannot make sense of tragedy, we don’t ever work through it alone. Our experiences with God, and God’s continued participation in our lives never leaves us abandoned to try to make sense of these things. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, and those around us, we can begin to re-enter a kind of conversion of life cycle; wherein we begin to understand not whether there is some purpose to the tragedy, but that even in such tragic situations, God joins us in our pain. And through the continued work of the Holy Spirit what we face can become a kind of conversion experience.
In time, at best, we can look back at pain and tragedy and mark our own growth from it—our own resolve and strength. Certainly we’ll continue to mourn the lost, but with God’s help, I believe that we grow to accept the hope of resurrection as a real and viable hope.
Jesus told the crowds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” I would say in light of all that has occurred in the past couple of months, and happens continually on different scales all over the world; we are a very hungry and thirsty people. But a couple of the verses that are omitted in today’s reading are very important in regard to this reality. Because Jesus says, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away…And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
Today, like every day, we have the opportunity to be changed—to experience conversion. But such an opportunity is only viable so long as we have the courage to understand our faith as our strength in adversity. What’s more, if we feel that we lack that faith and strength—we have to know that others may lend us some of theirs. And if that isn’t enough, we have the promise that we will never be driven away of lost, because we have been given to Jesus Christ, and we belong to him forever.