Religious renewal can be traumatic

Published January 1, 2002

SAVED. Converted. Born Again. Renewed. Spirit-baptism. These are familiar words to Anglicans who have heard them time and again in the services of holy baptism. Probably they were prayed for in these terms when they were baptized. “Give thy Holy Spirit to this child that he/she may be born again, And be made an heir of everlasting salvation.” (Book of Common Prayer) “Now sanctify this water by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who are here cleansed from sin and born again?” (Book of Alternative Services)

[pullquote] We know these are code words to denote an individual’s religious conversion which can be a traumatic human experience. The more dramatic the conversion, the more intense the experience of separation from all that went before while not yet being implanted securely in what is to follow.

It is to enter a threshold, a time of “betwixt and between” when one is wholly open in heart and mind to God’s prompting. In the words of Episcopal priest Gray Temple, “Your soul feels molten in the wake of such an encounter. You feel supple in God’s hands.” However he goes on to observe that, “A conversion can all too readily point you in a direction that is bad for you and bad for those around you. This often results from your allowing your molten self to get poured into somebody else’s ice tray.”

In The Molten Soul, Mr. Temple writes as an Episcopal parish priest with a strong liberal background who is a “converted” charismatic. He asks “Why is American Christianity so divided against itself?” While his analysis is set in the United States where opposing forces often seem stronger and louder, it also has application in Canada. He begins with the process of conversion itself and observes that within the experience more may be happening than is realized: “Religious conversion appears to liberate us from one set of bondages only to make us susceptible to another.” He sees this difficulty across the spectrum equally afflicting charismatics, evangelicals, Catholics, and social activists. He draws on the scriptures and the work of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker in his attempt to understand the power of the fear of death in human existence and the bondage it employs before and after conversion. He reviews how the Bible has been misused and how doctrines of incarnation and atonement have been developed with a literalism frozen within specific cultural time frames.

His reflections on the plight of Job caught between religion as such and God’s call to righteousness reveals Job as a “kinsman and model, pointing out the path God will take to reach us.” It is the molten soul staying molten “in the love God reveals in Jesus Christ” which is the key. For then that soul is open – “God comes for us again and again, each time leaving us changed.”

I wonder what a molten church might do? Turn the world upside down? It’s a thought!

In the hills and valleys of everyday life people are engaged in a struggle to discover release from their burdens and meaningful purpose for their lives. They seek healing and intimations of wholeness. Those who recognize the struggle will find a companion in Molly Wolf. She has been there. Angels and Dragons took shape when her editor told her to, “Go back and pick out places in your own life where God has been, and write about those.” The result is a collection of essays that reflect the vicissitudes of ordinary life with all its hurts and sorrows and struggles. Who hasn’t struggled to be loved and understood? Who doesn’t identify an evil and struggle over it internally? Who hasn’t had to deal with grief and anger and been caught in the middle – in her words, “But I had to forgive. But I couldn’t forgive. And so round and round and round we went. That was the moment I first wrestled with angels.”

There is an attractive unevenness to these essays that mirrors the unevenness of life itself. The dragons are varied and real, the angels are tough customers, and in the midst of it all, “God tugs me Godward and Godward is also lifeward and that entails a fair bit of suffering as well as joy.”

Ms. Wolf possesses the rare gift of being able to bare her soul and share her life experiences in language free of pretense or piety. Her encounters with God are in and through the ordinary and one gains the sense that it is an inner healing she knows which enables her to deal with the untidiness of life in an ongoing dialogue with God.


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