Conversion of Life
Conversion of life – conversatio morum – is a person’s life-long process of being transformed as he follows Christ. Thomas Merton described it as “A commitment to total inner transformation.” In the Prologue, Benedict tells us “God in his love will show you the way of life.” This is a call to metanoia, a real turning around of one’s life (de Waal, Seeking 69). I remember in the midst of my deepest depression being faced with a decision – to allow my illness to define my identity – or to strive for true repentance, doing everything in my power to regain (and improve) my health.
In my autobiography, I stated that Easter had become a Holy Day of profound significance for me. Conversatio forces us to face death itself through a series of lesser deaths throughout our lives – such as the loss of health, relationships, abilities, possessions – until we reach that last, ultimate death. But from death comes new life. New patterns of life and work grow only through letting go of the old patterns and accepting change (de Waal, Seeking 74). In my own life I have seen this in the taking on of responsibilities that I would have been less likely to have done before. My old pattern of being the support person for my partner gave way to a call to lead in some areas that I would not have considered before, such as the re-establishment of Morning Prayer in the parish.
Chapter Four of the Rule, “The Tools for Good Works,” consists of a number of axioms intended to help us face the demands of growth and change. We are expected to be mature, to take responsibility for ourselves. Numbers 34 to 42 address psychological well-being, beginning with “You must not be proud.” Pride hurts my psychological health because it is a need to control – my day, my future, others in my life, my world (de Waal, Seeking 75-6). Many recovery programs start with letting go of this unrealistic need for control.
We experience conversatio by redirecting our thoughts. Evagrius says, “Readings, vigils and prayer—these are the things that lend stability to the wandering mind. Hunger, toil and solitude are the means of extinguishing the flames of desire. Turbid anger is calmed by the singing of Psalms – by patience and almsgiving.” The goal of our conversion is to form ourselves – our souls and bodies – toward the Lamb who reigns at the center of the universe, the one who reigns in the center of our hearts (D. Earle, Sermon, May 2004).
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