Something odd – a cascade of metanoias -- happened on my way from atheism to believer to more fully converted believer, conversion, of course, being something that never ends, which is what, I guess, those cascading metanoias have all been about. I wonder where the ripples will carry me next.
Recently, in reading Things Hidden (Rohr), a most excellent book, some things hidden became a little clearer, revealing where ripples from metanoic experiences have already taken me without my being aware of them. One case in point is my children who were born with birth defects. I gave birth to two, took in a third, and am grandmother to two more.
As an atheist, I accepted the condition of my children. I never asked “why me?” I suppose that thinking there is no force in the universe that can provide assistance or change matters leads atheists more readily to acceptance (if I am any example). Bad genetic combinations happen. That is life; no one is to blame. It may be a poor hand that my husband and I were dealt, but we would make the most of it. And life went on. And on.
There came the day, though, when I came into the Presence of God through a hierophanic conversion experience, and then things changed. Given the existence of a Greater Power, I had some questions of that Power, and those questions were directly related to my progeny and their birth defects. I demanded to know why God had not intervened to protect them, and I was told to read Job. I did. Five times. (See my post on Job, excerpted from my book, Blest Atheist, for more details of how I came to read Job and the delineation of the “reasoning” I went through and the ultimate understanding I came to.) During the fifth reading, I finally understood that love for God and the bad things that might happen to us are separate things. One is not dependent upon the other.
Then, I moved beyond simply understanding and forgave God. It may sound presumptuous, but I don’t think it is so. If Jesus could forgive those who murdered Him, certainly I can forgive God for choosing not to make my children physically and mentally perfect.
I suppose that forgiveness brought me back in some ways to the starting point, i.e. to the state of acceptance I had lived in as an atheist. There was an emotional sea change, though. My acceptance of life’s challenges as an atheist I often referred to as living in the Land of Splat! (See posts on Splat! for a definition and description.) I met the challenges and fought the battles for my challenged children because the alternative, in my opinion, was unthinkable. After all, I reasoned and would tell others, we do what we have to do, we do what is put before us to do, we take a bad hand and play it as well as we can, bluffing where we need to in order to win. At least, that has been the way I had lived my life, without giving much conscious thought as to why.
My post-conversion acceptance was quite different. Not only did it have an element of forgiveness, but that forgiveness was also wrapped in loving awe, then, with the next metanoic ripple, in deep gratitude (evinced by praise), and now (I don’t say “finally” because I don’t know when, if ever, the ripples will end in this fascinating process of continuous conversion) in a humbling sense of unworthiness.
The awe came when, after reading Job (five times!), I inventoried my life and saw how God had turned every challenge to good use. Learning to care for my first handicapped child (Noelle), along with Russian language proficiency I gained in parallel thanks to various jobs I held, gave me the skills I needed to rescue another child, a talented artist from the frozen steppe of Siberia. For every challenge, I could point out a positive outcome, for every bad a resultant good. My complaint quickly turned to praise for in my initial reaction I had missed the obvious. That praise has deepened as my conversion has deepened, as my love of God has deepened.
As I tallied up all the good that has come from what looked like bad things, the knowledge (medicine, education, psychology, parenting) I would not have otherwise acquired, the knowledge – and more important, compassion and sibling love and active support – that my children developed, the ways in which I have been able to help others, the love my challenged children and grandchildren have brought out in others, and even the transference of many of my parenting experiences to the workplace that has had as much to do with my rise as a leader as a leader in my field as traditional training in the field, the next metanoic ripple carried me into a pool of gratitude. For all the things I have listed and much more, I am eternally grateful. I am especially grateful for my children just the way they are. They are not burdens; they are gifts.
As my gratitude has deepened, yet another metanoic ripple has carried me onward to a humbling sense of unworthiness, which is where I find myself swimming now: in a pond of trust, filled by God, where I wonder if I deserve to be. God has entrusted me with some very special challenges. He has trusted me to meet those challenges, and most important He has trusted me with raising His rainbow-makers. I want to be worthy of such trust, yet I fear (well, honestly speaking, I know) I am not. I have just done the best I could and have trusted God, in return, to take care of the rest. I still do as I wait for the next metanoic ripple to help me better understand redemptive suffering that God so values that He took it upon Himself.
As I was reading Rohr’s book and thinking all these things, I felt a nearly-imperceptible-but-clearly-loving, whispy touch. I have felt that touch before. When I feel that touch, I know I have gotten something right. (I wish I would feel it more often, especially in cases where I am trying to discern something.) Just what it is I have right, I am not one hundred percent certain, but I am pretty sure it has something to do with God wanting me to have these experiences out of love for me, God trusting me to meet the challenges and learn from the experiences, and God wanting me to rely on Him to help me with all challenges -- the ones I have described, the ones I have not described, and the ones yet to come.
Our Lady of Fatima [Flickr]
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