[Ongoing conversion] is a work of grace through which we participate in the great adventure of becoming saints. We [cooperate] with God to [refine] this work so that in the end we live the life of joyous freedom. Then, as St Benedict says, “we will run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with an inexpressible delight of love.” Fr. Dwight Longnecker
Words of Hope
Many consider conversion a single event in which a person is “saved,” turns her prone-to-wander life around, and pledges that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Or something akin to Saul of Tarsus’ encounter on the road to Damascus. It can be that, but even more importantly it is to become a student in the school of love, as St. Benedict asserts, a process that leads to “ongoing conversion.”
In his recent daily devotions, Richard Rohr has led readers to reflect on different levels of one kind of conversion, conversion to solidarity. The first is to have compassion for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. The second is a passionate anger at the situations which cause the injustice. While acknowledging that some anger can be dangerous, Rohr believes that those with privilege can transform our anger to become “life-giving presences working with and for those who are suffering.” For the oppressed, anger can be a form of survival, as Barbara Holmes indicates: [W]hen systems of injustice inflict generational abuses upon people and communities because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and/or gender, anger as righteous indignation is appropriate, healthy, and necessary for survival. . . Until the killing of black and brown people stops, all peaceful methods of resistance are appropriate. Right now, our anger is our truth, and our anger is a sacred part of our humanity and our faith.”
In a third movement of conversion, we come to value and appreciate qualities of the marginalized group, having had our vision cleared “by an initial awakening” to injustice. Though this stage can feel positive, the burden for people of color in being “superhumanized” –as with a belief in the strong Black woman who can “do it all”–can be another kind of oppression.
The next level carries us to recognize the deep and longstanding harm caused by the structures of systemic oppression. This is a difficult and complicated journey for those of us who are white and privileged, but essential to journeying into the image and likeness of Christ.
Ongoing conversion is “the wild-eyed and grace filled, unpredictable part of the spiritual way,” according to Fr. Longnecker. “[It] involves a ‘change of life,’ and real change entails risk, uncertainty and the adventure of going into the unknown. …[I]t means accepting the work of the Holy Spirit–who may be doing things[her] way, not our way.”
Draw us close to you, O God. Never let us go as we undertake the challenges and wondrous surprises of ongoing conversion. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon