This week marks 9 years since I returned to the Church. With the 10 year mark coming up, and with news of friends and acquaintances losing their faith in these past few years, I decided to dig up my journal from the period before and during my conversion so that in looking back I can understand how I have gotten to where I am.
Reading through those pages, at times I did not recognize the person who wrote those words. It wasn’t due to the fact that certain passages were vague and I no longer remember what events they refer to (though there are plenty of those); rather, it was the tone, especially of the period before. So much anger, hubris, lust, envy… So much confusion swirling about at the time, and no compass to point the way out of the fog.
Where was I in the period just before I converted? I was a man searching for meaning, for the meaning of life, and a meaning to my life. Having left the Church at a young age not knowing what she is, I tried reading up on other religions. Buddhism and Toaism especially interested me, but shorn of any mysticism or anything that might smack of esoteric. (This desire for something with a lack of the supernatural element might have been due, in part, to experiences growing up, with my own relatives’ beliefs.) Eventually these did not satisfy me and I moved on to Philosophy (though I did hang on to what I called “Philosophical Taosim”). For a time Philosophy satisfied that hunger and I tried to read as much as I could, trying to make sense of life. Eventually I came upon Nietzsche. (I can’t recall how I came upon him; perhaps due to some of the company I kept at the time.) Nietzsche opened the door to Camus (and, to a lesser degree, to Schopenhauer, to radical individualists, etc.). I drank all of it in. Looking back now I realise the dangers of reading things which one is not equipped to read, especially without a guiding hand to show the way. Reflecting on this (among other things) would later on make me look to the Fathers – trustworthy guides to interpreting the Scriptures.
I wanted to live a meaningful life, a virtuous life, but, at the same time, I wanted to indulge my passions. Yet what was this virtous life? I had swallowed hook, line, and sinker the German’s talk of morality as something of weaker men (and Christianity as being the morality of the weakest of all), and from the Frenchman I took that life was absurd and only I could give it meaning (the opening lines of The Myth of Sisyphus are still engraved in my mind all these years later, even after I have seen through their emptiness). From a political-philosophical point of view, I recognized no authority except that which I admitted. The Individual was supreme above all else, free from the fetters of society, of history, of culture, and whatever he entered into with another Individual was licit as long as it was agreed upon by both parties. Yet there was a small, almost imperceptible sensation that wanting to live a virtuous life was not exactly in conformity to giving into my desires, and that unrestrained “freedom” – the ability to choose whatever I wanted – was not in fact liberty, but a form of slavery to the raging, disordered appetites. Enter cognitive dissonance. Factor into that the inability to indulge in most of those passions (especially the one that consumed me the most), the hubris of an inflated ego that resulted from the authors I was reading, and ending a 5 year relationship and you get an unstable situation to say the least. I believed myself to be a one-eyed man deserving to be king in the land of the blind. For all my knowledge, I could not even recognize my own blindness; I could see no one, nor move from where I was.
Though I never wrote down the event in my journal, the memory of my “conversion moment” is still vivid in my mind. Not wanting to go into too much detail, as it is a very personal matter, it should suffice to say that one night, after returning home from work, I melted down; my walls of Jericho came crashing down. I, who up until then was no longer a believer in anything, who prided myself on being an “agnostic” (but was in fact an atheist), fell to my knees in tears and prayed what a friend years later would say is the one prayer that one can be certain the Lord will always answer, the prayer of the broken, of one who has reached rock bottom and has seen himself for what he really is, immersed in sin, fettered, unable to do what is right. I recall praying “God, I don’t know if you exist of not, but if you do, please save me from myself.” Immediately, a calm as I had never known came over me. I do not know how to put it into words, except by saying that while this calm was within me I realized that is was something from without, i.e., that it could not be and was not a product of my own psychological state or anything else of my own mind. All the confusion, all the anger and sadness and everything else that was inside at that moment ceased. It was as though I had experienced the Psalm verse “Be still, and know that I am God” (which I only heard of years later). I got up, went to bed and had the first night’s rest in a long time. I had fallen to my knees an unbeliever. I had arisen a believer.
But what exactly did I believe? Which was the God that had answered my prayers?