Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
This summer, members of your diocesan staff and I have crafted an 8-week lectionary based on Presiding Bishop Curry’s call for all Episcopalians to commit to a common path of spiritual growth. Beginning on September 9th I will preach a sermon series on The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life, using the biblical texts of this lectionary. Each week we’ll also provide, via email, suggested Scripture readings for daily prayer.
All diocesan clergy are welcome to use the Way of Love lectionary this fall or another time. Across the Episcopal Church, others are also generating Way of Love resources which we will curate and post on our website.
As I’ve committed to the Way of Love this summer, I find myself thinking my memories of Jesus, how the significant people in my life spoke about him and how my image of him has changed from when I was a child, then a teenager, and throughout my adulthood.
I’ve also been pondering the meaning of conversion. Conversion experiences were a source of confusion for me as a teenager and young adult, a time when I sojourned through several different branches of the Christian family, each with a particular understanding of conversion. I had several conversion experiences myself, but never in quite the way others described them. I didn’t feel what I thought I was supposed to feel; nor did my life change in ways I hoped it would. While I never doubted the existence of God and was deeply drawn to Jesus, I doubted my experience. I marveled at those who seemed so certain about what was, surely, the greatest of all mysteries.
In a providential moment, I was given a book entitled Turning: Reflections on the Experience of Conversion by Emilie Griffin, Using her own experience and that of well known twentieth-century Christians (C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and others) Griffin described several different paths of conversion. Some were dramatic, other more gradual; some were emotional, others guided by intellect. She also suggested that conversion is more of a journey than an event, which came as a relief to me 30 years ago and remains a reassuring notion still. But, in a gentle, yet firm challenge to that part of us that would prefer to remain non-committal and content with caricatures of Jesus that we are then free to keep at arm’s length, Griffins also insists that there is a choice to be made in the conversion experience. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. We are free to decide if we will let him in and then follow where he leads.
To turn, Presiding Bishop Curry suggests, is the first and foundational spiritual practice in a Jesus focused life. I’ll write more about this and the other six practices beginning next month. For now, I offer you a few excerpts from Turning that I have found especially helpful:
By conversion, I mean the discovery, made gradually or suddenly, that God is real. It is the perception that this real God loves us personally and acts mercifully and justly toward us. Conversion is the direct experience of the saving power of God. As such, it is not an event, not an action, not an occurrence. Instead, it is a continuing revelation and transforming force.
Conversion begins with a longing or desire, a heart’s ache for something we have never quite experienced and cannot fully describe.
If our Christianity is to be visible—a light to the world—it must be because the Lord makes it visible, not because we ourselves seek to place it before the eyes of the world.
Christ, we are told, has come to heal the brokenhearted; that we may have life and have it to the full. At the same time, Christianity is not some emotional wonder drug, as the trials and difficulties of many Christians show. . . Those dearest to Jesus—in fact Jesus himself—had moments of sadness, discouragement, even despair. To pretend otherwise is to flee from reality rather than to face it as Christianity calls us to do.
And, quoting C.S. Lewis:
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.
I am persuaded that it is not only the Presiding Bishop who is inviting us to us to walk in the way of love, but Christ himself. As we open the door for Jesus, daily turning our gaze toward him and committing ourselves to specific spiritual practices, we can rest assured that our congregations will be renewed, our communities transformed for the good, and our lives continually changed by his loving, liberating, and life-giving presence.
Join me in daring to believe that we have been called to this path by the God who is love. May we walk it together with kindness, curiosity, and whole-hearted intention.
Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde