Tag Archives: Conversion

On Farewells and Fresh Starts

Dear Father,

It has been ages since we last spoke. Depressed by the continued absence of Fatherly epiphanies, and hitting wall after wall in my search for meaning in your grand design, I resorted to silence.

It wasn’t initially a conscious choice. The time between my letters had already been growing due to my increasing responsibilities, and it seemed at the start that the pause was simply more of the same, albeit longer. The more the time grew, however, the easier it became to just remain quiet, as mere thoughts of addressing you served only to remind me of past failures and of the apparent impossibility of any real future within your House. There was no point I thought, for as long as the reasons behind my departure remained unchanged, reconciliation would forever be impossible.

I understand Father that this fear is very similar to what wayward children, guilty of much greater crimes than a crisis of faith, feel after having left the fold for too long. Many an elder in your House, through sermon and scripture, has spoken at length of how misplaced these fears are. Our Father, they say, is most gracious; there is no sin is too great for his boundless forgiveness. It was after all to buy this very forgiveness that the Brother-Saviour gave his life.

But how does one forgive a lack of faith? How does one forgive a sin whose very core is the question of whether forgiveness is possible, whether it is even necessary? As the space between my letters grew wider, and as the hopelessness of satisfactorily concluding my quest grew greater, this question became of increasing importance to me. Would you, dearest Father, accept a wayward son back into your home? One who, while filled with a burning desire to return, was yet to reconcile the many questions that had drove him away to begin with? Would such a return to the House even mean anything? Could I truly call myself a child of the Cross if at every service, in every prayer, my once little friend was still able to ask his pernicious questions? If whenever called to exalt your name, or give solace to my brethren, or stand resolute in the face of temptation, I found myself thinking instead of whether or not the very foundations of our household were real? What good would such a return do?

Unfortunately, roaming aimlessly with these thoughts in my head had a very unintended consequence Father. It brought me to the realisation that fulfilment in spite of all this, despite the lack of your approval and forgiveness, is a real and attainable goal.

In this letterless stretch I met a lot of people, many of whom were like me: prodigal children long separated from their Houses. There were differences of course; some had left not because they feared they had no parents, but because they felt they had wrong homes. Some had left because they had discovered in their Houses corners so dark and vile they shattered the illusions of perfection they had come to believe were real. Some simply believed there was no true House, no one Father, that these structures were but the flawed efforts of children desperate to satisfy an inexplicable yearning they all found within themselves.

Regardless of their stripe Father, their presence and the manner in which they carried themselves revealed that a life without a House is not the thing I once feared it was. From within your gates we hear all kinds of things about the wayward children beyond the wall. They live lives of sin, empty and unfulfilled. They are cruel and selfish, blind and hateful, and the few with good hearts are ultimately misguided, doomed and damned by virtue of their pride and ignorance. Only you, through the Brother-Saviour, can save all men. Only you can bring us joy.

Seeing these wayward souls, living among them, banished all of those thoughts dearest Father. Here were people that were just as content as those I had seen back home, and in many ways even more so. Here were people that had found, in your earth, its people, its institutions, and even in their own existence, a fulfilment and calm that had eluded me for years.

To be fair these people weren’t new. I have been bumping into different kinds of your children from the day I set foot outside the House. There was however something about interacting with them, free from the impetus to judge their acts against your standard, that impressed on me the ease of their existence. Even Doubt, ever ready to throw a wrench in the works and derail my progress, seemed quieter when I was with them, less rash and more indulgent. Once I stopped trying to judge ideas against some sort of fixed, Crossian dogma, his questions lost their bite. In their presence he transformed from bane to boon, his probes helping all of us reach new levels of discovery instead of holding me back with the weight of his uncertainty.

And perhaps nothing could have sealed my fate more than that final realisation, dearest Father. My once little friend has been with me from the start of my quest, and rare were the occasions on which I managed to quiet him. To see his vindictive ruthlessness cooled by the acceptance of the children Outside, to glimpse a future in which I didn’t have to worry that every thought, every action had to be weighed against his incessant questions, a future where the truth was something to be sought and not something to be fought… I believe even you Father can understand why a weak child like myself would be seduced by that.

Of course none of this would have mattered had I made steady progress in my quest to find you. But being the all-knowing Father that you are, I suppose you always knew how this journey was going to end. The letter that launched my silence was not one of hope, and in the absence of any new discoveries to counter the despondent conclusions I reached prior to sending it, was there ever really much chance that my questions would find resolution?

And so here I am Father, ending my journey much like I started it: outside your gates and longing for your voice, my immense sadness at the futility of my quest tempered only by the renewed promise of finding peace amongst my prodigal brethren. Alas I will not be privy to that greatest of feasts thrown when one of your children return to the fold. I cannot in good faith take that final step through the gilded gates, for I still cannot accept that your House is my home. My doubts are too deep, your silence too deafening.

I can only hope that if you really are there, if you did receive any of the letters I sent on this saddest of quests, that somewhere in your heart lies the capacity to forgive even those of us that turn our backs to you.  We want to love you Father, to know you, but in a world such as this an invisible, intangible, and inconstant parent makes that leap just a little too large.

So fare thee well dearest Father. May your grief at the loss of yet another child not dull the joy from those that choose to remain, resolute and steadfast, in your presence.

Forever with love,

Your Prodigal Son.

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On the Confessions of St. Augustine

Dearest Father,

The last time I wrote you about the Numidian it was on his recent conversion, an act sparked by the death of a very dear friend. While I was dubious at the time that a similar situation would be the catalyst that brought me back to you, I was undeterred in my desire to finish the Numidian’s long letter, hopeful that at its end I would have come to a deeper understanding of what it means to have strayed and returned to the fold. I have at long last concluded his Confessions, but I must confess Father that no such understanding has come over me.

We left Augustine with his decision to become a catechumen and it appears that after this decision he was blessed with meeting the most favourable people, from his friend in conversion Alypius to the wonderful and eloquent Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. Such men helped our Numidian in his early days post-conversion, assisting him in weathering the storms of doubt, fear, pain and sorrow, and enabling him to rise above these calamities and finally see you with a clarity he had never before experienced. He studied very closely your scriptures, questioned the very nature of good and evil, and finally came to what can only be described as a breathless joy at being in your embrace. His words reveal an immense appreciation for his trials, and he even began to look fondly upon his past, saying that the joy of his conversion was made sweeter by the tribulations that preceded it.

Having fully returned to the House in heart as well as in body, and filled with what I suppose must have been a burning desire to know you intimately, he turned his mind to you and your creation, contemplating your grace and beauty, the power contained in your works, and the difficulty (if not impossibility) of describing such wonderful things in terms that simple mortal minds could comprehend.

And in this, his sudden acquiescence to all the doctrines and dogmas of the House, lies my problem Father. Like Augustine I have asked very many questions on very many topics. I have pondered the effects of your creation, the paradoxes inherent in your sacrifice. I have struggled with the whispers of Doubt. But unlike the great Numidian, I have no easy recourse to emotion. I have no friends whose deaths would cause me to seek you out, whose departures would make me crave the steady comfort of the House’s teachings. Unlike him I understand fundamentally that life is fleeting and that pain is real; ironically it is for this reason that I left the House and began my journey in the first place. Where he sought answers to calm the turbulent emotions in his heart, I seek answers to quiet the numerous questions in my head. Too quickly did he brush aside the very contradictions he raised, willing to overlook all inconsistencies before your might, whilst tearing down even the smallest errors in the teachings of the heretics.

Perhaps it was my mistake, reading his Confessions and hoping to be swayed in your favour. The heresy of my day lies not in some twisted interpretation of the works of your son, but in the very nature and existence of you, dearest Father, something our Numidian had already taken for granted.

But what is most troubling about his Confessions is not that they failed to move me, Father; it is the manner in which he concluded them. After waxing poetic on the wonders contained in your being, Augustine ended his missive with this:

“And what man can teach man to understand this? or what Angel, an Angel? or what Angel, a man? Let it be asked of Thee, sought in Thee, knocked for at Thee; so, so shall it be received, so shall it be found, so shall it be opened. Amen.”

Once again I am told that the answers I seek will not come to me from any man, or angel, or book, but from you Father, and once again I am compelled to ask when you will answer me. When will you put my mind to rest?

With disappointment and longing,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Power of Loss

Dear Father,

I apologise most profusely for my long silence. As you must know, I have been heavily occupied these past weeks with worldly duties, compelled by your world and the rest of your children to put aside pen and paper and focus on things more directly affecting my survival. I am starting a new phase in my earthly life you see, one not at all tied to my quest for the great Sophia, and as you know such moments of change are often fraught with much activity and little respite. In addition this new phase brings with it new responsibilities, and so I am afraid such silences may become more frequent in the coming months. I will, of course, do my best to write with the expected regularity.

But no matter, Father, no matter; as always it is never my intent to fill my missives with descriptions of my mundane life. While I may have been busy with the trappings of my childish form, I have not completely abandoned my quest. My journey continues, with the words of Augustine and Russell keeping me company and providing much needed food for thought.

I must apologise for my stagnation with Augustine’s Confessions; even though I started reading his work at the same time I did Platocrates, I have since finished the Greek’s dialogue on justice but am yet to pass the halfway mark on the Numidian’s narrative. His prose is most dense dearest Father, a throwback to another time, and it is often rather difficult to process. With that in mind, however, I seem to have stumbled upon a seminal moment in his journey.

When I last read the Numidian he had made a most important decision; he had decided to become a catechumen, a student in the doctrines of your as yet undivided House. It took a series of (un)fortunate events to push the great saint in this direction, prime among which was the loss of a friend most dear to his heart. This loss and its subsequent transformation came during his many years of decadence and debauchery, at a time when he was young and given to the indulgence of varied human vices. He was most impressionable in those years, proud in the gifts of his intellect and content in the contrived praises of his friends. Reading his words it is evident that he considered himself happy at the time, fulfilled both in worldly outlook and in his daily habits.

The death of his friend, a man he claimed to love so much his soul could not be without, had a most profound effect on our Numidian, but I dare say it was the conversion of this fellow before his death that dealt the most damaging blow to Augustine. The man had fallen sick you see, and after an involuntary baptism it seemed he had become a changed man, marveling in the beauties of your works and shrinking away from the heathen proclivities he and Augustine had once shared. Our Numidian was stunned, heartbroken; but before he could get to the bottom of this change his friend was taken from him, killed by a relapse of the very illness that brought upon the baptism.

Augustine was grief-stricken, as you can imagine. In what I suspect was a few weeks he had twice lost a very close friend, in mind as well as in body. Such is the price we humans pay for attachment to things so temporal and fleeting, and it seems to me that it was this loss, and the confusion and grief that came with it, that drove the frightened child into your arms. Of course, we read his words after the fact; we see his experiences from the eyes of one that has already found you, and so it is only natural, as a member of the House, that he attribute whatever thoughts and transformations from this event to you. To use his words:

“Blessed whoso loveth Thee, and his friend in Thee, and his enemy for Thee. For he alone loses none dear to him, to whom all are dear in Him who cannot be lost. And who is this but our God, the God that made heaven and earth, and filleth them, because by filling them He created them? Thee none loseth, but who leaveth. And who leaveth Thee, whither goeth or whither teeth he, but from Thee well-pleased, to Thee displeased? For where doth he not find Thy law in his own punishment? And Thy law is truth, and truth Thou.”

Perhaps he felt that by loving you, by loving his friends in you, all death would become meaningless. After all if one is in you, one cannot really be lost.

Of course the fear of death and the grief it brings have long been used as tools to draw many into your House, and so in many ways Augustine’s thoughts are not out of the ordinary. They are to be expected, after all. His experience leaves me wondering Father, whether or not such a loss would be the tool by which you bring me back to you. It would be a most interesting turn of events, for while I hold a deep love for the members of my family and a number of friends, I cannot say that my grief at their passing would cause me to seek you out. I am already on this path for personal reasons; taking the few of your children I hold most dear may not do anything to sway me.

Now there are marked differences between the nature of Augustine’s journey and mine, and so it is no surprise that I doubt this would be the tool of my conversion. I am not quite as given to vice as he was; I derive my enjoyment more from exercises of the mind than the occasional indulgence of the flesh. Where he still believed in you, if not quite the you of House dogma, my questions are on your very presence and not on some ‘heretic’ interpretation of your existence.

Of course there are a few similarities; he mentions that he was called Agnostic by an old physician, a term I find myself leaning towards more and more, what with the buzzings and mutterings of Doubt above my head and the strong and as yet irrefutable words of both Russell and Descartes floating in my mind.

I would be remiss if I did not add that I am a little put off by the conclusion in his quote, for he references your justice, a system that as you know I have very strong feelings about. Such a calm acceptance of acts which do not appear to do any good further highlights the fundamental differences between himself and me, but once again in the interests of keeping an open mind I chalk it up to the fact that his words have been written after the fact. Perhaps when he lost his friend he did not think this way; perhaps when, if ever, I return home I shall look upon my time away with the Father-tinted glasses customary of all within the House.

I see my friend shaking his head and I must say that I am inclined to agree with him; in my current state it is difficult to imagine an experience that would send me running into your arms. Still, Father, stranger things have happened, and with Doubt beside me I am willing to think that perhaps my time shall come, as it did with the Numidian. One can only hope at such a time that all my questions would have been answered.

With tainted hope,

Your Prodigal Son

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