Monday, October 25, 2010

Kathleen Norris on Conversion: More Than Having a "Saved on..." Date

Kathleen Norris writes in her book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, about the tendency of evangelicals to focus so intently on the specific date they were "saved" on, an exact date on which they were "born again."  Norris (though a Presbyterian last time I checked) has an excellent grasp on the progressive teachings of Catholicism and mainline Protestant churches.  Nowhere is this more true, perhaps, than when she discusses what conversion means for those who choose not to point to a date-locked-in-time when discussing their own conversion:
"It does not mean seeking out the most exotic spiritual experience, or the ideal religion, the holiest teachers who will give us the greatest return on our investment.  Conversion is seeing ourselves, and the ordinary people in our families, our classrooms, and on the job, in a new light.  Can it be that these very people--even the difficult, unbearable ones--are the ones God has given us, so that together we might find salvation?  Taking a good look at myself and the people I live and work with, I might assume that God is foolish indeed.  I might also begin to have an awe-inspiring glimpse into the uncomfortable implications of Paul's exhoratation to the Philippians to 'work out your own salvation with fear and trembling' (Phil. 2:12)."
I'll confess that I've never fully understood the attachment many evangelicals have for their "saved on..." date.  Certainly, I do understand marking the anniversary of a time and event that had a profound effect on whom one is today.  I also think I get the desire to prize the date on which one realized for the first time that God cares for each of us personally, not simply as abstract representations of the human race.  But really, doesn't the concept of a "saved on..." date imply that it's all over; the supposed Christian destination--salvation for me, myself, I--has been arrived at?  I don't mean to sound cynical about what is truly a source of joy for many evangelicals.  Still, I much prefer the view that Kathleen Norris articulates in the passage above.

I also can't help but remember that Norris identifies strongly with the spirituality of the Benedictine order.  The Benedictines are well known for leaving a door unlocked in each of their monastearies, with at least one empty room always available for unexpected travelers.  That hospitality and openness to strangers is part of any complex, on-going conversion experience, isn't it?  And then also we have the metaphor of conversion as journey.  Leave a door open for those on the journey--for each of us is meant to be on that journey.  None of us are home yet.  We all are on the way.

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