Monday, December 28, 2015

What Converting is *Really* Like




The year 2015 is almost over. For some reason, it seemed like a good time to talk about Conversion again.  And so....I've done a bit of thinking and reflecting on our conversion in Easter 2011. We've officially been Catholic- since Stephen and I did RCIA and all of it together- for four and a half years. So here ya go, friends...  some thoughts I've come away with from a stroll down reflection lane.

It’s hard to describe to onlookers and friends what converting to Catholicism is *really* like.  I remember praying for spiritual confirmation/confidence a few weeks before converting, and I ran into a woman on the way into Mass who said, "I'm praying for you! With the intercession of St. Therese!" and I marveled to myself, that I had just finished her autobiography, which had made such a deep impression. Was it a coincidence? I think no. It was, rather, an answer to prayer and Divine intervention. To convert from Protestantism to Catholicism as an adult takes courage and wit. ;)  Seriously though, you can’t really attach words to the feeling of making a decision that huge. All of the butterflies, the break-down-crying episodes, the rift between family members, the lightning bolt hitting you from a huge, dark sky. Or should I call it a sunbeam, shining down on all of your dark places?

There are a bunch of really good conversion stories out there.  But none of them sit you down like a person in a sitting chair by the fire, handing you a cup of hot tea and saying: LISTEN. This is what it is REALLY LIKE.   It sucks. IT IS SO FREAKING HARD.

Imagine that you are sitting in my somewhat cramped living room, pulling up to a nice cuppa chai, and imagine me saying: There are three things you need to know.

Number one: It is Terrifying.
Number two: It is So Freaking Overwhelming.
Number three: {All the feels on this one, because} it is so very, very Ignorance-Confronting.

So yeah.  It is scary. No, in fact, it is really terrifying. That’s how it feels.  It is not just a little scary, it's more like I'm lost in space, and I have no tools for how and what to do next. If you are even remotely considering becoming Catholic, you’re going to need not just a little, but lots of reassurance.  If you play around with the idea, remember that there will be not just a little but lots  of spiritual warfare.* You need to not only make some Catholic friends, but you need to do a lot of reading (whatever speaks to you, but be sure it is from the correct- Catholic- standpoint).  And really, making friends who are Catholic speaks volumes of your faith taking on a new direction. Reading Catholic blogs, etc. just isn’t going to cut it.

Second, you need to know that converting is oh so very overwhelming- so much to learn and so much to let go of.  The culture of Catholicism- have no doubt- is very beautiful.  But it’s very, very different from being Protestant. At first, it feels almost extremely strange. At the same time you’re appreciating the incense and the lit candles, you’re terrified that the chanting is Satanic or at the very least, off-base. (It’s not).  Slowly and over time, you get used to the liturgy, and the Psalmody, and the Scripture and Gospel reading, and it starts making all the sense. But in the mean time, you’re wondering: Nice music, but where’s the spirit-felt prayer?  Nice processional, but where’s the 10 point sermon?  But over time, not only does the liturgy start to make sense, your eyes start to open, and you start to love it.

Finally, you’ve got to you're able to confront your ignorance, if not also your sin. This is a big part of shedding doubt and darkness. If you spent some time at a Catholic mass before converting, this point might not be for you. (And yes, that was an equivocation... no shame). I was in the camp of I’m-a-hard-core-Protestant, and not only that, but I was a defend-Presbyterianism-till-I-die type (maybe I still am that defensive INFP type, heh...).  But I felt so, so behind as I was being catechized, that my eyes would so often glaze over, and my emotional thoughts would run to the hypocrisy of the various teachers in my RCIA class. I was so blind, my friends. Looking at Jesus (AKA my RCIA teachers), all I could see were their issues, their problems, their blindspots..  If only back then, I would have known…

“Jesus, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world…”

(Including mine)

In order to truly judge Catholicism, you have to judge it from the inside, not the outside. Once you experience First Communion, particularly as an adult, EVERYTHING CHANGES. Not just a little. EVERYTHING CHANGES. A LOT. Because of a more intimate communion with Christ our Lord and Savior, you change, your words change, your thoughts change. You experience the world with more light, more life, and more loving humility.  However, those things are inward. Never in my first years of being Catholic, did my fellow Catholics give me two ounces of flattery.  That was so hard for me. Flattery, my friends… that is not the same thing as love. But to Protestants, Catholicism may seem unkind, or forced, or even fierce. It is fierce- with Mary, and the Saints- like a consuming fire, fierce… but it is also Love. For example, the once strange Rosary is now a discipline I embrace gladly. And so those feelings of ignorance slowly but surely washed away (and they are still being washed away).

As my children become catechized, I’m frustrated. I honestly, honestly feel so behind compared with my friends who were cradle Catholics, or catechized a long, long time ago. The Montessori approach has not come easily. Rather, it tests my patience daily. It is hard- so hard- as we hear and see our family’s reactions. There are boundaries, a need to keep from “rocking the boat,” and real, true feelings that spring up every once in a while and surprise all of us, me included. I am - in fact- shocked at some of the things I’ve said and some of the things that have made me downright irate. "How could someone misjudge the Church so completely?" Honestly, I just wish they understood.  All flattery aside, I am afraid they are living in darkness, because they haven't experienced their First Communion (and every Communion after that!). As I make friends, feel behind, and see myself slowly catching up, I know that I’m staggering as I do it.

I really don't know what else to do. And so I try to write honestly. I try not to be scared. I try not to be overwhelmed. I try not to be ignorant, any more. Here’s to lightning bolts of understanding, and making the way easier for the weary to embrace truth. *clinks glasses*

*I’ll have to address spiritual warfare more in another post. Suffice it to say, I had nervous feelings on the drive to every single RCIA class. I had the same *Feelings* at every Mass I attended as a non-Catholic. I felt like my understanding of Catholicism (which was just about nil) did me no favors, at that point in time. If I had the knowledge and peace that I have right now, it would have been easy.

I close with a quote I heard sometime in college. The pastor of my then-church said these words. I can now say they apply to my life so well. They were sealed in my memory; I can never forget these words. He is a very profound person, by the way! Like other pastors, he has a gift and an intellect that I highly respect.

By the way... I'm open to any questions you may have. Leave them here for me in the comments, or email me~ tacy.and.stephen@gmail.com!
linking up with Tuesday Talk @ Waltzing in Beauty

2 comments:

Annie said...

This is beautiful and SO interesting to hear! Thank you for sharing, Tacy!

Tacy said...

Thank you, Annie!