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Speaking to the Soul: Conversion

by Maria Evans

 

Conversion of St. Paul:

AM Psalm 19; Isaiah 45:18-25; Philippians 3:4b-11

PM Psalm 119:89-112; Ecclesiasticus 39:1-10; Acts 9:1-22

 

You know, I was well over 40 years old before I first got a dishwasher, and the first one I got, I didn’t really want. My contractor talked me into it when I built onto my house and put a new kitchen in the addition. He convinced me it was cheaper to put in a dishwasher than to buy another cabinet in the style I had chosen.  (Appealing to my cheapness…um…I mean frugality…well…it works.) Even then, it was a couple of months before I even used it.

 

You see, I grew up in a very modest house with a kitchen too small for a dishwasher, and parents who couldn’t afford one anyway. In that weird way parents try to justify the economic inequalities of the world, my folks ground into my head that people who owned dishwashers were lazy slugs, and besides, washing dishes builds character, and if I hoped to have any allowance money, I’d darn well be washing dishes and liking it (raucous laughter.) Of course, my Teutonic genes resonated with that (“By God, I may have issues but I’m NOT lazy!”) and I continued to believe…and spread…the urban legend that dishwasher owners have some sort of character defect.

 

That said, my personal genetic struggle has always been between my Teutonic and Celtic genes. (The fact that many believe Teutons were actually derived from the Celts complicates it even further.) My inner Celt would way rather be outside playing and enjoying nature. So even though my inner Teuton said using a dishwasher was lazy, my inner Celt let the dishes stack up to disgusting proportions…so one day I broke down and used the dishwasher. I was an immediate convert and I never went back. I even think my inner Teuton and my inner Celt came to an understanding, by considering the “sanitation factor” with dishes washed in a dishwasher.) Of course, that left the messy truth that I would spend the next ten years of my life doubling back on the things I had so strongly worded about dishwasher users, when they reminded me of what I used to claim.

 

When we read about Paul’s conversion in Acts, he also never goes back. He didn’t go into that conversion WANTING to be a Christian–in fact, he was still Saul, and on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians some more, after obtaining the proper paperwork from the high priest. In addition, he’d recently held the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death.  Diarmaid MacCulloch describes Paul as a “devout and soundly educated Jew in the Pharisaic tradition”–not exactly the substrate of conversion. Moreover, his conversion isn’t a sunshine and light experience at first–most of us hope for a dramatic improvement in our lifestyle when we change our way of seeing–not to be struck blind. Yet that’s exactly what happens to Saul/Paul.  MacCulloch also points out that as Paul begins to preach and teach, his reception at first is pretty lukewarm. After all, his reputation preceded him.

 

One of the things that seems to be a feature of conversion (whatever our conversion might be) is that the more certain and visible we are in our past way of behavior, the more dramatic the change appears to be…yet living into that change is not sudden, and often occurs in fits and starts. It’s no accident, I believe, that it takes four more chapters in Acts before it is noted that Saul is also Paul. The lag time between the conversion and the name change in Acts mirrors Paul’s effectiveness in the early phases of his ministry.  

 

It is at this point our reading in Acts reminds us of another important feature of conversion. Conversion almost never occurs in a vacuum. God calls Ananias to go to Saul and minister to him, curing his blindness. If change within us is real, not only will we be held accountable for our past ways by those who “knew us before” but new people will enter our lives and affirm the change. Is change scary? Sure. That said, we should have faith that we won’t endure it alone.
When was a time you experienced conversion of way of life, or a significant change, and it took you a while to accept your “new name?” Who entered your life to help you navigate it?

 


 

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.

 

Image: By Michael Lancz von Kitzingen – www.mariacki.com, Public Domain, Link

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