Every year when I was a child, our church would hold Vacation Bible School for a week in the summer. It was the highlight of the year for the Sunday School—we met every evening for a week, and each night was filled with songs, games, crafts, and snacks, all centered on whatever the year’s theme was. One year our curriculum was “Turnabout Paul,” and that week we learned all about Paul’s life, his conversion, and his work on behalf of the Gospel. The main thing I recall is that the “theme song” for the week, which we’d sing every night at the beginning and end of VBS, involved everyone standing up and trying to do a 360° jump. We learned that the key moment in Paul’s life was his conversion, when he “turned about” from persecuting the church and began to follow Christ.
I was thinking about this lately because today we observe the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, when we remember his conversion and are tasked with thinking about the role of such metanoia (or turning around/conversion) in our own lives. Very often, conversations about conversion involve discussions concerning a person changing their faith traditions, or moving from a place of no faith to faith. Thus one moves from talking about conversion itself to the larger topic of evangelism. The beauty of this moment in the church year is that it calls us to think about the ways in our lives we need to “turnabout” to God. Conversion isn’t just about a person changing their faith commitments from one faith to another. It is also about the ways we change faith commitments within our own tradition; or, to put it another way, Paul’s conversion encourages us to examine our lives and find those places we need to refocus on God.
One of the side effects of this pandemic has been the need for many of us to evaluate our lives and our priorities. Before Covid shut everything down, my life was often busy in ways that seemed necessary. The pandemic shut-downs have slowed life down for me and my family, and forced me to confront my former busy-ness. Out of this I have found myself embracing the Daily Office in new ways. Without the ability to go to church, and with small kids who can’t do Zoom church, I have had to be more intentional about how I build faith formation into our family life at home. We as a family have found ourselves embracing Sabbath on the weekends in ways that are more faithful to that gift God has given us—rather than running errands doing the chores we couldn’t do in the week beforehand, we are spending time together enjoying the gift of one another. Conversations with my family—some of whom are front-line workers—have taken on new importance and depth, knowing the risks their jobs entail and our inability to gather in person. I have, in other words, experienced a kind of conversation in my own life over the past 10 months, and while the grief and anger about the current situation are there, I can’t help but also be thankful for the conversion I have experienced.
These are difficult days, make no mistake. Yet even in the midst of them, and beyond them, God is calling us towards conversion, both individually and as a community. May we listen for the Spirit calling us to turn our lives ever more to Christ, and may we be given the courage to do so.
This message was written by the Rev. Dr. Hilary Bogert-Winkler, Director of Pastoral Studies, for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.