"A conversion is a lonely experience. We do not know what is going on in the depths of the heart and soul of another. We scarcely know ourselves." Dorothy Day
When I stumbled upon this quote, I brushed it aside as not likely being much use to me.Later, I thought that perhaps I could use it as another point where I differed from Day. But as I began to flesh out this blog, the quote came back to me. Day titled her autobiography "The Long Loneliness" which seemed a bit odd to me because after reading her journal and letters, I saw that her life was filled with people. However as I reflected on both the title and the quote, I realize that to a large extent she was spot on, and that her loneliness came from a lack of connection to God, and I suspect also from a separation with the Church.
Conversion is always filled with people of course. Having spent some time studying conversion and deconversion, I know at an intellectual level that these experiences always involve other humans. We are never truly isolated nor do we come to the places without some human suggestion. But now that I am undergoing my own conversion experience there is an element of loneliness to this process. The loneliness that comes from being outside of community, outside of God even in the midst of those prayers and wrestling.
For 12 years, I have waffled on converting formally to the Catholic Church. There were, and are, many arguments against such a conversion. I fought the pull of God in that direction. There is/was so much that I disagree with the Church on in terms of formal doctrine. But for every objection I meet people on my path who helped me to wrestle with these objections. I found books to read that showed me that there was room for someone like me. But in the end, it was me and...well, God. And that was hard. And lonely. No one could be in that space for me. I had to be there alone with my doubts, my fears, my anger. Because frankly I was pretty pissed off at God/Jesus. For along time, I spoke only with Mary because that I could handle. When I prayed the rosary I didn't feel the anger or resentment from my past.
When I decided to finally convert, the loneliness began to ease a bit. I found a wonderful church in the UGA Catholic Center. Both Father Tom and Father David are good guides and compassionate leaders. Sister Marie who runs my RCIA group is wonderful. She is knowledgable, strong, and always there for a conversation. My RCIA group itself is the right fit. The conversation is interesting, stimulating, and agreeable even we don't agree. I believe that we nurture each other even as we challenge each other. And in this place, I have found someone who I think will become a very close and good friend. In other words, I have come home. I feel safe with myself in this place. Safe that I will not be thrown out or pushed away.
And tonight I took the formal step out of my own long loneliness. I felt privileged that unlike Day I was able to participate in a formal ceremony of welcoming: Rite of Acceptance. We meet down in the recreation/meeting area where our sponsors would be instructed, and a few of us laughingly admitted how nervous we were. We were lined up with our sponsors and lead to the chapel. It was odd to march with the possession and to feel everyone giving us these questioning looks. But once the rite began it was a simple powerful moment. We announced in loud voices as one our intentions to join with this community. As we were blessed with the sign of the cross first by Father Tom and then over our ears, eyes, mouth, shoulders, hands, and feet by our sponsors, I could feel something loosening up inside me. Some area of my soul that I kept hidden way, afraid to look at began to push forward into the light. We were each give a wooden cross, and one of the women who helps with RCIA was beaming at us. I was mostly trying to hold it together.
Finally, we came to the Eucharist. I had never seen it so close (we were in the front pews directly in front of the altar). As I watched Father Tom prepare this feast of remembrance, I found myself slowly allowing my soul to open up and to embrace that mystery. And as Father Tom held the wafer over the wine cup, all I could see was the cross behind him, reflecting on the wafer. After the blessing, as I knelt on the hard floor I prayed "Jesus here I am. I am angry, bitter, and wounded. I don't know how much I can offer you but I am opening myself up to you. Again. I am here because your gospel commanded us to love each other as we love you. I don't know if I can fully embrace all that your Church offers but I can embrace you." At this point, I just started to silently weep as I felt myself filled with something I had thought long gone. Something that often scared me. I did not turn away but instead stepped into the light with my community behind me.