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Sep 042017

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 2/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.

 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 2)

Conversion of Heart
What Does It Really Mean?

What does conversion of heart really mean? As Fr. Foley points out:

The word “conversion” usually brings to mind someone leaving one religious tradition and joining another, or perhaps joining a religious tradition for the first time.  Often it is seen as a singular, perhaps even dramatic event.

For many of us Christians conversion brings up an image of what one pastor friend of mine has referred to as the “aisle walk”. One gets up at the end of the service on Sunday morning, walks down the aisle, professes belief in Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior, and gets voted “in”. Then one is baptized. Then the “conversion” is complete. After that we engage in bible study, various forms of worship, and sometimes service. As part of those activities we often talk about developing the “mind of Christ” or “becoming like Christ” and the like, but there is seldom any focus on what it really means to do that, or how we are to accomplish it. There is no real accountability for actually making that happen in our lives. We talk about it, and sometimes we are even passionate about it, but all too often that is pretty much as far as it goes. We never get to the real hard spiritual work of developing the “mind of Christ” or “becoming like Christ”. We settle for believing in Christ without any real focus on actually “being” like Christ.

But as Fr. Foley points out:

the Hebrew-Christian scriptures present a different image.

In this image the “isle walk”  is only the beginning of what is a life long journey of growth and transformation. It is the commitment to that journey. It is the commitment to the real and often difficult and very personal inner and outer work of that journey. “The Way”, as early Christians called it, is hard work. It involves prayer and spiritual practices that help us to develop and ongoing relationship with that Mysterious Other we call God. It involves allowing that Mysterious Other to continually lead our lives, and to guide us as we go about the day-to-day events of our lives. It involves letting go of the ego driven thoughts, emotions, and impulses that often control and drive our lives. It involves doing the often very difficult work necessary to actually change many of the actual thoughts, emotions, and impulses that have become the very foundation of the way we live our lives, some of which we have come to believe are part of who we are. And maybe most important and most difficult of all it involves changing the way we are actually present to all of the people, events, and things that make up our lives. All of this is of the very essence of “the Way”. It is of the very essence of the meaning of Christian “conversion”. The “aisle walk” is just the very beginning of this conversion process. It is our commitment to the lifelong conversion process.

As Fr. Foley put it:

Yes, conversion is a process–not a single event.

Conversion is truly a life-long process. It is of the very essence of the Christian life. Things like bible study, worship, and fellowship, at their best, are facilitators of that process.

I have actually done the “aisle walk” three times over a number of years to meet the requirements of some of the churches I joined. As I am fond of saying, “It never took”. It was never enough. It never changed my life in any significant way. It never really changed the way I was present to the real people, events, and things that actually made up my day-to-day life. In short I it never led to any real “conversion” in my life.

Richard and Grandchildren

Photo by Winnie Southworth

As just one example, my natural approach to routine conversation is to be very direct and very blunt—to call “a spade and spade” as the saying goes. If I think something the other person says is wrong my natural response might be to say something like “Now that is really stupid!” or even “what the f***”. In some environments that works. For example I once worked in an environment where that was pretty much the accepted approach. I have a couple of friends where it is also an acceptable approach, and I love it. In both cases we all understand each other. We know that in the end we all care about each other. We know that these relationships are a safe place to relax and just “be ourselves” or so it seems.

And yet in the end it does not work in my other relationships. People are offended. People avoid conversations with me. It is easy at this point to make arguments like “people shouldn’t be so d*** sensitive”, or “get over yourself”. But those reactions are a part of the same mindset and typically make the situation worse.

But again to quote Fr. Foley:

In this understanding, conversion begins every time I become aware that something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life.  This “something” need not be bad; in fact, it might be something very good: a job, a cause, a relationship, an activity.  The giveaway that it has become too central is that I am not free to lessen its importance in my life.  As good as it may be, it has enslaved me.  When that awareness is accompanied by the grace of remorse, the process of conversion has begun–or begun again.

Clearly this course and often offensive way of talking has taken too “to central place in my heart and life”. Just as clearly it has negatively affected my relationships, especially my closest relationships, and many other aspects of my life. In many ways it has prevented me from following the leading of that Mysterious Other in my life. It has prevented me from becoming fully “that man” (See Page??) which is so important to me. As I have looked at the truth of all of that recently, the remorse Fr. Foley spoke of has risen up in me. The conversion process has begun. Now the spiritual work of that conversion process begins.

Let me be clear. I have come to see that not only does this growth and change need to happen in those situations where it is clearly destructive, but it also needs to change in those relationships where it is seemingly accepted and even enjoyed by others. It needs to change in all of my relationships and in all of my reactions to the people, events, and things in my life. Even there it is a place where “something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life”. The call to conversion of heart here is clear.

Question for Reflection

  1. What “other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life”? When I reflect on that do I sense a sense of remorse? Am I open to the possibility of conversion of heart? Am I willing to do the spiritual work necessary to facilitate that growth?

If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series.

Conversion of Heart:
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough

Conversion of Heart (This Post)
What Does It Really Mean?

(Coming Soon…)

Divine Union
Letting Go Of The Ego

Work v. Grace
Finding Balance

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Seeking Wholeness

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed


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