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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Damascus Road

I thought I'd share a snippet from Anne Lamott's book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. I particularly appreciated listening to her recount her conversion experience...
That April of 1984, in the midst of this experience, Pammy took a fourth urine sample to the lab, and it finally came back positive. I had published three books by then, but none of them had sold particularly well, and I did not have the money or wherewithal to have a baby. The father was someone I had just met, who was married, and no one I wanted a real life or baby with. So Pammy one evening took me for an abortion, and I was sadder than I'd been since my father died, and when she brought me home that night, I went upstairs to my loft with a pint of Bushmills and some codeine a nurse had given me for pain. I drank until early dawn.

Then the next night I did it again, and the next night, although by then the pills were gone.

I didn't go to the flea market the week of my abortion. I stayed home, and smoked dope and got drunk, and tried to write a little, and went for slow walks along the salt marsh with Pammy. On the seventh night, though, very drunk and just about to take a sleeping pill, I discovered that I was bleeding heavily. It did not stop over the next hour. I was going through a pad every fifteen minutes, and I thought I should call a doctor or Pammy, but I was so disgusted that I had gotten drunk one week after an abortion that I just couldn't wake someone up and ask for help. I kept changing Kotex, and I got very sober very quickly. Several hours later, the blood stopped flowing, and I got in bed, shaky and sad too wild to have another drink or take a sleeping pill. I had a cigarette and turned off the light. After a while, as i lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there - of course, there wasn't. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, "I would rather die."

I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn't help because that's not what I was seeing him with.

Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.

This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.

And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn't stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I thought was just ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling - and it washed over me.

I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock passed dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one God's own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, "Fuck it: I quit." I took a long deep breath and said out loud, "All right. You can come in."

So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.
Here's what I like about this book - Anne's story is raw and honest; it demonstrates that Jesus is big enough to save someone most churches wouldn't want to touch. Her life illustrates where all of us are headed without Christ: we think we're good, but really we are junkies barrelling down the tracks of life, trying to convince ourselves we're still in control. Sooner or later there's going to be a train wreck.

But if God can save Saul of Tarsus - if God can save Anne of Lamott - he can save you and me. You CAN get there from here.

What's interesting is how God rescues all of us in different ways - for some of us, we grow up believing and can never remember a time where we didn't know God was real; for many of us, however, there comes some kind of decisive turning point where our entire worldview suddenly shifts. For Anne, it was the culmination of years of self-destructive behavior - she finally realized her need, and then saw that God was pursuing her, not in hatred, but in love.

So what about you? I'd like to open up the mic and give readers a chance to talk about their conversion experiences. I'm not looking for sweeping histories here, but rather the pivot points - what key events or insights made the difference in your thinking? What caused the switches to flip? What enabled you to actually start believing in God? How did your heart of stone suddenly change?

That's what I'm interested in hearing. Any takers?

9 Comments:

At 8:02 AM, April 06, 2005, Blogger CM said...

I guess I fit into the category of "we grow up believing and can never remember a time where we didn't know God was real", but there are still some defining points, for insitance it wasn't untill I got to University that I realy started thinking about the fact that God has a plan for me, and that my faith and belief need to make a diffrence to the way I lived my life.
I think the range of conversion stories helps to show how well God knows that one-size dose not fit all, and we are all difrent and unique creations.

 
At 12:37 PM, April 06, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

You raise a great point cm: abstract "belief in God" can never save us - at some point the gospel has to become "God's message to ME"

Your comment also raises another consideration which I had overlooked. The way I phrased my question kind of implies this agnostic reality in which we gradually move from not-knowing to knowing (belief). Scripture is very clear, however, that this is not the case: we all know God exists, and then rebell against that.

So there's a sense where growing up is actually a process of "learning to disbelieve" (or perhaps, "learning to rationalize/justify our rebellion of unbelief") rather than "believe".

According to Scripture we never find God - we've known he's there all along, and our life is just a series of attempts to convince ourselves that maybe he's not. So we don't find him - we try repeatedly to ditch him - but just like the cat in Anne's story, he keeps finding us.

It strikes me that knowledge is certainly never separated from faith, no matter how much we'd like to think otherwise.

At the same time, the basic premise of my initial question still holds true - even when have believed that God exists, there always comes a point where that knowledge personalize, concretized; where it shifts from "abstract fact" to "life-altering creed".

So were there any particular highlights at university that functioned as mental pivot points for you? Or was it just this gradual shift?

 
At 1:48 PM, April 06, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

Christian: You and I have talked about this a little bit, but I'm not sure what your turning point, or defining moment was. I remember you saying just reading the Bible when you were in your early teens. This may sound like such a Pagan thing to say, but it had to run deeper than that. Did you have a Damascus moment in all that? Is this something that needs good beer and a Cigar or a post in and of itself?

 
At 2:59 PM, April 06, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Yeah, I will share a little bit of my own story, but not just yet. I need to think about how I want to say it (and I've really got to spend some time studying for my Hebrew quiz first). Plus I want to hear what others have to say too. So stay tuned...

 
At 9:16 PM, April 06, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

LOL. The Hebrew excuse. You know that I don't know Hebrew, so you can give it to me stright up, right. Just kidding. Hope to hear it soon.

 
At 3:26 AM, April 08, 2005, Blogger CM said...

"So were there any particular highlights at university that functioned as mental pivot points for you? Or was it just this gradual shift?"

Hi chrisitan,
well, thinking about this the "pivot points" were there, I just never really saw them at the time. For example I can clearly rember heling out at a mission/concert called 'revelation' that was held on campus, it was a great time because so many people had but buckets of effort into it, including setting up a huge festival stage in the centre of campus. But during the set-up I was really chalenged to about my reasons for helping, and truthfully I was there becasue I found it fun and exciting; every real reason that I was invovled was fundermentaly about me rather than Jesus.

It was then that I knew that I couldn't continue to be a Christian without letting go of some the control of my life. The weird thing was that at the time it didn't seem that big a decision - I guess I was exausted, both physicaly and spiritually, and knew that I couldn't continue doing everything that I needed to, without 'external' help.

I've got to say I didn't learn the lesson easily - and I keep needing reminders that I am bound to fail working in my own strength - but I know that I'm trying to face the right direction.

 
At 3:10 PM, April 08, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Thanks CM - there's an awful lot of good stuff in what you just said.

I particularly like the points you make about:
- realizing you were about you
- realizing you needed to let go
- realizing you couldn't do it on your own

I think your comments about not seeing the pivot points at the time is also insightful...so many times, the pattern and meaning of things doesn't emerge until later.

Good stuff! Thanks! :-)

 
At 12:22 PM, April 11, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok Christian, I've been wrestling with this one for some time now, and can probably answer one of your questions about pivotal moments. My conversion was a string of "pivotal moments" that goes on to this day. I think why I've been so apprehensive to write is that I simply don't want to see my many huge life mistakes in print. Forgive the spelling and syntax errors, if I don't write straight thru, it may not come out.

Like you I was the product of divorce, two of them to be exact. I have three younger sisters, and yes, divorce sucks. My way of dealing with the anger and the hurt was drugs, I took everything but heroin to escape. Mostly marijuana and booze, I was never known to turn down anything. At eighteen I married my high school sweetheart, and joined the navy. A few affairs later and we both called it quits, not before aborting one child and producing two others. My soul was sick and I knew it. I desperately needed the lord, he knew this..I was stubborn. I divorced my wife, unmindful of my childrens feelings, and set out to try and heal myself with another woman. I married into a hellish nightmare that almost cost me my life and career. At the lowest of my lows I prayed to God to save me from the mess I created. I started going to church and introduced her and her children to the lord, eventually having them all baptized. In the end she self destructed by having affair after affair. We were divorced. This was incredibly painful as I married her in the church and loved her with all her faults. I was on my way though...

Prayer is a scary thing, it actually works. I prayed to the lord (often) that the next woman I fall in love with love God and not be nuts. He answered my prayers on February 9th 2001. We were married almost two years later. The healing that has gone on in my life since then is the stuff books are written about. I have goose bumps writing this part and am near tears. God truly loves you and wants to help, My children are a blessing, I am fortunate they have turned out the way they did given their father's ablility to screw things up. God is alive and working in my life everyday. He answers prayers all the time, often going above and beyond even what I thought possible. His love brings an incredible calm that I want to hold onto. His awesomeness SCARES me, I have no idea why he could love someone like me, but he does. That is HUGE. There is no going back for me. My devotion to Christ increases daily, I like to think of it as the snowball effect. My new thing is to include Jesus in everything, no matter how small. This is a lot harder than it sounds because I often think I can fix things myself. Learning to comepletely rely on someone else is a journey in itself.

Thank you for this blog, and this opportunity to ramble. I pray to God to bless you and your family. Don't worry about the numbers you have certainly helped me.

Love,
Jay

 
At 12:57 PM, April 11, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Jay - thank you so much for sharing. That was absolutely beautiful, and it means an awful lot to hear you say those things. It is obvious that God is working in your life, and I am confident that he will continue to do so.

You are a testimony to God's relentless love, my friend - hang in there and keep the faith!

Thanks for encouraging us all...

 

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