I so appreciate Richard Cole’s description of his faith journey, because he’s not afraid to reveal the emotional, even physical, aspects of spiritual conversion. This is one of my favorite passages of Catholic by Choice.
I knew it was love because I was scared. Again, it was the same kind of fear I felt when I’d first met Lauren, the realization that my life was changing whether I wanted it to change or not. I went back to a journal I had kept then:
I have no control anymore over what’s happening. I see myself riding on the back of a panther through the jungle, then we’re racing along the edge of a cliff. On one side this dark, dangerous tangle, on the other a drop into empty space. There’s no way I can get off.
Part of me was panicked about losing control over who I was, or thought I was. At the same time, I worried that this wonderful, scary feeling might go away. Like a fairy tale, the enchantment would be broken, the spell reversed. . . . During the week, when I went to noon Mass at St. Ed’s, I was always nervous as I walked up to the chapel. The front door has a plain brass door knob. As in a dream, I saw my hand reaching out to turn the knob, and every time, I was afraid that it would be locked. Every time the knob turned in my hand and the door swung open, but it took months before that fear went away.
I also felt that this was True Love because it hurt. I mean literally, like a sore muscle. My heart hurt in my chest, and it only got worse. In the mornings when I was reading the Bible in the kitchen, chanting along, I’d sometimes pause and then start crying. I don’t know why. I would suddenly have the feeling of possibility, of loving and being loved in a way I’d never experienced, even in marriage. I felt that I wasn’t alone, would never be alone anymore, that God or Jesus or somebody or something was sitting right there at the kitchen table with me, and I kept on crying and sometimes wound up on the sofa or under the table, sobbing like my heart would break. I hadn’t cried, really cried, like that for years. This was radical, and it went on for days and weeks and months, as if I were playing catch-up after a lifetime of being a good soldier, my jaw clenched.
I remember at the time watching a heart operation on TV. The surgeons took a saw, like a circular saw, and chewed straight down the patient’s chest, cracking open the sternum. Then they took an instrument that looked like a vise, only with the faces turned outwards, inserted it, and then went crank-crank-crank, and you saw the whole rib cage spreading apart—it was unnerving to watch—until there was the heart, this big wet muscle flopping around. It looked ready to jump out almost any second. I watched the operation, thinking, That’s me, as if God were performing long-overdue surgery.
Every person’s conversion, every journey of faith, is different. This weekend, try to spend some time describing your own experience of waking up to God’s love.
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