Spiritual Conversion: 3 Steps from 3 Traditions

This blog has discussed emptying oneself of one way of being in order to make room for a new way of becoming, and it has spoken of the binary spiritual conversion healing and life change require.  How does one approach remaking oneself from the inside out?  Here is wisdom from three different traditions for finding that kind of life change. 

The Twelve Step tradition speaks of “rock bottom” as the point at which an addict becomes open to life change because his life has become unbearable.  No one wants to hit rock bottom, or to see it come to that for a friend or loved one, but that’s what it takes for someone deep in denial.  The Big Book’s chapter titled “We Agnostics” encourages: 

Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you.  At the start, this was all we needed to commence spiritual growth, to affect our first conscious relation with God as we understood Him.  Afterward, we found ourselves accepting many things which then seemed entirely out of reach.  That was growth, but if we wished to grow we had to begin somewhere. 

Spiritual conversion doesn’t require hitting rock bottom, but it does require relinquishing something comfortable in pursuit of something unknown.  The first step, then, is openness to a new way of being.

In the Christian tradition, C.S. Lewis encourages trusting God’s imagination: 

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.    (Mere Christianity)

When I realize God’s imagination for me is infinitely better than mine for myself, I can relinquish my silly notions that I know what’s best.  Whether those notions have led me to complete devastation or to a dull ache of emptiness (“There’s got to be more”), relinquishing them will liberate me from bondage to self and create awesome possibilities.  So the next step is trusting God’s imagination.  

The Reform Jewish prayer book recalls what Abram had to leave behind in order follow God’s call.  Abram left his homeland, his friends, all he had accumulated over a lifetime, and all that was familiar–for what?  He did not have the answer, but he had trust.  “Radical Leaving” is what the prayer book calls Abram’s courageous step, and Rabbi Norman Hirsh’s poem “Becoming” describes how we encounter it:

Once or twice in a lifetime
A man or woman may choose
A radical leaving, having heard
Lech lecha — Go forth.

God disturbs us toward our destiny

By hard events
And by freedom’s now urgent voice
Which explode and confirm who we are.

We don’t like leaving,
But God loves becoming.    (Mishkan T’filah)

The third step is the radical one.  We open our clenched fists and release our old ways of being as we stretch our hands into the unknown for the new ways of becoming.  We have to experience our own personal exodus before we see the promised land.

Join the conversation.  What is your personal exodus story?

 Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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3 thoughts on “Spiritual Conversion: 3 Steps from 3 Traditions

  1. This is so marvelous, Stephanie. I hesitated before deciding to comment. What could I possibly add? I did not hesitate all that long. I am drawn to comment firstly in order to tell you of my admiration for your concise and complete telling of the story of conversion. Secondly, I wanted to add that the surrender we make to God’s care is not a surrender to an outside influence. It is a surrender to our own indwelling design.

    The third of the twelve steps announces a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. The care of God says that we trust God to take care of us, to take care of our will, to take care of our life. It does not say we want God to diminish our will in favor of something other, nor does it say we want God to take over and run our lives. It says simply that we trust that we can rely on God’s care, that there is some mechanism by which we will experience the fulfillment we desire that we don’t have the wherewithal to invent or manage all by ourselves.

    I submit that this “mechanism” is our own God-given design.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Allen. I am appreciating your perspective on God inside. A couple weeks ago someone with a Buddhist orientation commented on praying to a power outside oneself vs. turning within to find indwelling power in prayer. Yesterday I read a meditation on the God of love that is you and me. It reminded me of this subtle but significant distinction. Thank you for increasing my awareness of it.

  3. Pingback: Visualization Technique for Using Pain as Fuel | Across Traditions Blog

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