by Michael Bauman
The conversion story is a unique form of literature in that it is always a story of coming into the light. The movement may be slow and steady or expressed in a moment with one amazing encounter. Our discursive language and the fact that even in such brilliant flashes as St. Paul’s meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus we are still mostly blind always make our stories incomplete. I have an advantage in that I am writing twenty three years after being received into the Church by the grace of God.
My journey began in July of 1947 with an act of love, it is still going on, I don’t expect it will end. However, in looking back I can perceive a pattern of change roughly every twenty years or so. The first twenty years of my journey, I was conformed to the beliefs and philosophy of my parents. Neither was Christian but both had a profound understanding of the divine presence in the world. My father’s came from his time alone as a young man on the plains of eastern New Mexico, the kind of land due to its apparent barrenness and isolation that is often described as ‘God forsaken’. It was God forsaken to my father. My mother was an artist primarily as a dancer with Martha Graham.
After she left New York to marry my father, she continued to teach dance. She read the Bible to my brother and me when we were growing up and then when I was about 15, she sat me down in our living room and told me that God is real and that I needed to find Him. Then she gave me a copy of Huston’s Smith’s Religions of Man telling me the answer was in there somewhere.
The quest had begun in earnest.
After finishing high school, I went away to college and suffered the fate of many. My world, which had relied so heavily on my parents understanding, began to crumble. Fortunately, it was not disastrous, but in the middle of my sophomore year, 1968. I had a crisis. I had broken up with my girl friend, my best friend and I were estranged and I had almost flunked out of school. I went out on a small hill from which I loved watching the sunset and I cried out to God for help. He came. I knew immediately it was Jesus and that He was the longing of my heart.
The next twenty or so years was learning about myself and about Him so that I could respond to that longing, the call He had given me to follow Him. It began paradoxically by studying Nietzsche, the prophet of God’s death. Despite his grandiose proclamations of the self-sufficiency of man’s will and its ultimate triumph apart from God, I saw the lie. In one part of Nietzsche’s work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, he says of the spirit of man that it must become as a little child and speak the sacred yes. He never got to the yes. I wanted it.
After college, I drifted until I found a small, cultic new age Christian group called the Holy Order of MANS which became the next major step in my response the person of Jesus Christ. The Order was a syncretistic mystery cult that taught and practiced just about every major heresy. One thing it had, despite the many untruths was that Jesus Christ was really there, so was Mary.
Much like the Orthodox Church, the Order emphasized the importance of oneness with Jesus Christ through sacrament. They just had no idea who He really was or how to express Him theologically. Jesus continued to lead those who heard His voice and gradually the Order went from new age mystery cult backwards in time, undoing the devolution of the Christian faith until the only way left was the Orthodox Church. I did not stay for the entire journey the Order made which took until 2001 so that story is for someone else to tell.
However, it was in the Order that I was first exposed to the Orthodox Church, her worship forms, icons and theology. My heart leapt, but I still was mistrustful of anything that looked like a ‘church’ in the traditional sense. My wife and I decided to expand our horizons though. I started visiting different churches in my town: an evangelical church and a Friends church chief among them. All were unsatisfactory. The evangelical church was so casual as to be wholly disrespectful of God and His mercy. The Friends church was actually wonderful it the congregations’ ability to pray together in silence, but it left me longing for Communion.
One evening, as we were driving home talking about our next step, we passed a small, dark colored church in our neighborhood. My wife suddenly turned and said,
“What about that one!”
At the time neither of us knew it was an Orthodox Church even though I had walked by it countless times as a boy growing up and we had driven by it frequently. My wife, may her memory be eternal, was an intuitive woman. I learned to trust those moments, so I went.
I walked into the small nave and had my breath taken away. There was Mary, her arms outstretched with Jesus sitting on her lap, saying come in, worship my son. When the priest carried the bread and wine down the center isle into altar during the Great Entrance, I felt the presence of Christ Himself much like I did that first night on the hill years before. Yet the presence was stronger and purer.
It took us nine months of struggle with our own will and waiting for the bishops to figure out what this silly little thing called the Holy Order of MANS really was. Finally, we were Chrismated on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women, 1987–my wife, my nine month old son, and me. We were home, but the journey was not over. The next phase had begun.
Looking back it is easy to describe my journey as a series of choices. It is not. My journey is simply listening and being obedient to the call. When I choose, as I so often do, I get further away from God, not closer. I have to turn back and allow Him to embrace me once again–always the prodigal. But at least I am firmly in my Father’s house always able to feast at the table of His mercy.
“When we’ve been here 10,000 years, bright shinning as the sun. We’ve no less time to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”
The journey is as St. Paul said:
“we all…are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord,” (2 Cor, 3:18)