The Feast Day of John and Charles Wesley
In my sixty-four years I’ve had a number of “conversion experiences”, moments when I have felt the redemptive power of Jesus as a real presence. The first was when I was four or so. As I was weeping in my bed after overhearing my atheist father scathingly attack my mother’s faith, I experienced a moment of profound knowing. Irrefutably I understood that Jesus is real.
The most recent conversion happened a year or so ago after reading Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich. In a deepening of insight that came like a lightening bolt, I understood that letting go of sin is a process very like letting go of thought while meditating. Through turning our attention away from our behavior and any and all judgments about it and back to love – again and again – we come to rest completely in God. From that place anything we do is not self-conscious but is rather the expression of the real us, the person infused with Jesus’ love.
None of this is easy to talk about. For one thing I’ve never evolved the language, and I fear that when I start talking about conversion I sound like someone with a simplistic, black and white understanding. Too often in my past I have been asked to “accept Jesus into my heart” in ways that would necessitate trying to cut off pieces of my psyche that are intrinsic to who I am. It is hard to explain how my new understandings are different.
And for another thing, the whole topic is quite personal. Because I am an introvert I don’t really hold with flying my deepest sentiments like so much underwear on the collective clothesline. But my personal relationship with God is the bedrock of my faith, and the more I know and understand my real self, the more I see that my true longing is to open others’ hearts to the same kind of relationship as I have with God. Somehow or other I have to express my convictions.
It was refreshing to read about the Wesleys, both of whom had conversion experiences that spurred them to huge church renewal efforts. Like First Century Christians they traveled about the countryside preaching and teaching. Though they were classically educated they recognized that experiencing God first hand was far more important than philosophies about God. They longed that the hearts of all with whom they talked would be opened to that immediate and mind-boggling primal relationship.
I especially appreciate Charles Wesley, the hymn writer. He lived out his calling in a way similar to mine; he used his God-given artistic talent to speak his deepest sentiments. That seems just the ticket.
“Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord,” says Paul in today’s reading from the Book of Romans. Ardent, zealous service seems to describe the Wesleys well. My own service has been rather more tepid – though the older I get the more outspoken I become.
I guess that some of the distractions of my life are beginning to be pared away. My “conversion experiences”, by contrast, seem to be becoming more real and vital. More and more I turn to expressing what I know because of them.
What passion, nourished by the deepest sources of your being, yearns to be expressed in you? Do you struggle to articulate all that it means to you? Are you becoming ardent in spirit?
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image from St Martin’s Methodist Church