C.S.Lewis reflects on his conversion:
Really, a young atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.
You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.
(Surprised by Joy, ch. 14)
Lewis explained that on November 12, he and his brother Warren traveled to Whipsnade Zoo. “When we set out,” Lewis wrote, “I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; and when we reached the zoo, I did.”
What makes you believe?
For Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning, it was Jesus saying her name. For Thomas of doubting fame, it was seeing the wounds of Jesus. For the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it was the breaking of the bread. For Peter, it was Jesus’ help with the disciples’ abysmal skills as fishermen. The stories of Easter offer all kinds of reasons why people came to believe. There were many ways that their eyes and hearts were opened.
So this morning, I’m wondering: How did that happen for you? What made you a believer, to whatever extent you consider yourself a believer? What compels you, or at least prompts you to identify with faith, even if that faith is small as a mustard seed, even if it wavers?
A lot of it has to do with the way we look at things. Einstein said that there were two ways to look at the world. One, as if nothing is miracle. Two, as if everything is miracle. I’m guessing that some of those disciples simply thought resurrection was not possible. They were blocked by limits of their own imaginations. That kind of thing (i.e., resurrection) didn’t happen, even when Jesus had given them hints it was coming. That may be true for us as well.
Abraham Lincoln said that he was driven to his knees in prayer because he had nowhere else to go. Many people come to faith out of a sense of their own brokenness, their need for help from a power greater than themselves. They’ve tried everything else.
Many people come to faith because of the witness of someone else, making the point that faith is more often caught than taught. The early church apparently grew exponentially because people outside the church looked at this new community and said, “See how they love one another.” I wonder if folks would say that about the church today.
And then we have to admit that growth in faith is a mystery. Lots of Jesus’ parables suggest that. He talks about seeds planted, some taking root and some not. When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus about being born from above, being born anew, being born again, Jesus said that it’s as mysterious as the wind blowing where it wills, not knowing where it came from or where it’s headed. I sometimes feel that way about my faith. It’s a come and a go.
I’m grateful for the ways that the gospels tell the Easter story. As we read these stories over 50 days, we see again and again that the first disciples doubted and feared and wondered. They are us. In our world there are plenty of reasons to throw in the towel on belief. The most religious people may well be the ones who make it most difficult for us to believe.
So how about this for an Easter project? Spend some time thinking about your own spiritual growth, perhaps even about your own conversion experience, for some a singular transformative event, for others a lifelong process moving from exploring to deepening to centering on a life with God. If belief feels thin this morning, say a prayer for eyes to be opened in some new way to God’s presence. If belief feels strong, give thanks. If you know someone who seems to have a powerful faith, ask that person about how that came about. And maybe as an observance of Easter, share a story with someone about how faith took root in your life and how you hope it will continue to blossom.
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In a recent episode of the video series Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.
“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.
If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.