"Conversion begins in this awakening to something more, something impinging, something erupting deep within the self, and deep within society, and deep within the physical environment that is at once irresistible and compelling."
--Richard Valantasis, "Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age"
One of my favorite walks is "The Lake Loop"--the road that loops through Thousand Hills State Park in Kirksville. One of the joys of cameras on cell phones is I can sometimes snap a picture of something that enhances what is on my mind.
Many of you know I historically do something "retreat-y" the week prior to my birthday. I am not sure how I fell into that pattern, exactly, but it is probably a combination of the fact my birthday falls during Lent, and something about middle age and getting re-involved in the life of the church made it seem to be a natural time for reflecting on the prior year and the year to come. This historically was a time of "resistance" for me. It used to really annoy me that my birthday often fell during Holy Week (and sometimes on Good Friday!) and the few times it has fallen on Easter, I used to be irritated that I had to share it with a holiday in the church calendar. (It gave me a little glimpse of what it must feel like to have a birthday around Christmas--I have nothing but compassion for folks whose birthdays are near that time of year!) So I guess there was a place where I began to simply let the season take me where it will, instead of resisting it.
What I am doing this year is working through a "stay at home" retreat with the author of this book, who is one of the co-founders of the Institute for Contemplative Living. What's fun is it is a combination of the ancient and the modern for me--engaging in a very ancient form of contemplation but using modern tools. I've been meeting with Richard via Skype, and I've been using my cell phone camera to take pictures that illustrate my thoughts.
One of the joys of walking the Lake Loop on a regular basis is watching the park change as the seasons change. Even if I walked it every day in a given week, I will notice something different than the day before--a change in an individual tree, the sound of frogs that weren't there yesterday, a little group of flowers blooming that weren't there before.
My photo from a recent walk reminded me that we are in the time of year in northeast Missouri that changes almost hour by hour, let alone day by day. The grass is starting to green up, but the tree line is still mostly brown, except for the cedar trees. Over the next few weeks, as the tree line greens up, other colors will emerge like clockwork--the pink candy cotton dots of the redbuds blooming, followed by the white of the dogwoods, and, if I look down by the roadside, I'll be treated to the purple of the spiderworts, the white of Dutchman's breeches, the blues and whites and yellows of the bird's foot violet, the lavender of phlox.
Once the trees green up, the area roadsides become the markers of time as spring stretches into summer--first the prairie roses and multiflora roses, then the blue chicory flowers, that then give way to the whites of the Queen Anne's lace, and as summer winds down, the golds of the goldenrod and the various sunflowers take over.
I have come to realize these patterns of color are ingrained in my heart, as an area native. The colors become streams of thought in my life, and my feelings happily travel with them.
What I have also come to realize is, as I re-entered the church, one of the first things I became re-attuned to is the liturgical calendar. It, and becoming engrossed in our Book of Common Prayer, were the two major things that cemented me back to the life of the church. Now, after several years in this cycle again, I find that things can now feel "Advent-y," or "Epiphanoid" or "Easter-ish."
This is what I've come to discover about "the liturgical way to be a follower of Jesus." Conversion is not a single event. In evangelical Christianity, a "moment of conversion" is essential for the common ground of discussions of faith. Liturgical Christianity can't even wrap around an idea of a single conversion. Every moment we feel aligned with God's presence is a moment of conversion, in our minds!
That, of course, doesn't mean this doesn't happen in evangelical Christianity. It just means it is not perceived in the same way. It doesn't use the same language. There's a breakdown in translation when the two groups dialogue.
Thinking of each of the moments of our lives as multiple episodes of conversion also changes how we look back at things. I have a tendency to think of the moment I first set foot in the door of Trinity-Kirksville as "the day I returned back to the church." But that's not entirely true. That moment was shaped by many, many other moments. It was shaped by eight weeks in 1990 when I was in northern Ontario on a rotation, where the only things entertainment-wise were the hockey rink and the Anglican Parish Hall. It was shaped by four weeks in Washington DC at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in 1995, where I found myself hanging around the National Cathedral in Washington DC almost every weekend. It was shaped by a mentor who died in 1988, who was a lifelong Episcopalian. All of these moments I once thought were "separate" were, in reality, moments that coalesced into that moment I first walked through the door of Trinity Church.
But what I have come to realize is the seasons and the liturgical calendar, despite their "sameness" year after year, are backdrops for many, many conversions. Each moment of our past shapes us, and from day to day not always in the same way. It's a reminder that change happens all the time in the backdrop of an eternal, unchangeable divine presence.