Conversion: A Retrospective
When I was younger and less experienced, my head was also harder and my ego larger (which are the things that led to my separation from those communities, of course). That is not to say that I was unwilling to learn or to be changed in my ways, but in that time it was a much more difficult process than it is today.
Now that I find myself responsible for the formation of others seeking to travel the monastic path toward union with God (whatever image they might have of God in their hearts), I often mourn the trouble I put my former teachers through. I also rejoice in their patience and their ability and willingness to forgive my wrongs against them, but I think there will always be a sense of shame within me over the way I acted and the stubbornness that comes easily to younger folks.
I wish that I could say that I have been cured of my hard-headedness, however anyone related to or who has been long-time friends with me knows better. I am certainly more malleable when it comes to "conversion of life" (one of my favorite descriptives about the monastic experience), however I am nowhere near the state of easily workable clay that a skilled potter would enjoy shaping into a work of art.
Reflecting on this fact has brought both joy and shame to the surface of my awareness. Perhaps being somewhat stubborn is a good thing; it may or may not ensure that the lessons I am supposed to learn are done so more authentically and/or thoroughly. Perhaps it is, at the same time, a stumbling block in the process of inner growth and change, which I'm certain is the case in many instances in my life.
The thing that has most clearly been brought to my awareness concerning all of this is that change is no easy process. The human condition drives us to fight it in favor of clinging to that which is comfortable and familiar to us. The thought of changes, for many people, stirs up feelings of uncertainty which in most cases brings fear along with it.
I have come to realize that in the work that I am called to do, I must be diligent in remaining mindful of my own journey of conversion, in order that I might exercise patience and soft-heartedness when dealing with those who seek to travel down the path of monastic practice as a means to union with God.
I am certain that I will continue to make mistakes. My ego is far from being a tamed beast; this will inevitably lead to some poor decisions and misunderstandings.
I am also certain that because of my experiences, I might be able to truly understand the challenges that monastic practice brings and that I might be able to help ease some of the burdens that those who join with the community to which I belong face in their ongoing formation and conversion of life.
Perhaps it is no mistake that I was both gifted and cursed with a thick skull. It may be just the right ingredient for the elixir of our unique experiences, both as a community and as individuals seeking to be peacemakers and servants of understanding in the world around us.
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Reflections from the monks and nuns of OES.