Monday, August 11, 2008

I Am Mrs. Lot

Fallen Sparrow has a wonderful post up about a few of the things that interest me most: New York City, memory, and the mysterious grace of God. Among other observations remarkable for their beauty and honesty, he notes that "Lot's wife, in looking back, became pure, distilled tear-stuff, the physical manifestation of sorrow." Fallen suggests that the lot of Lot's wife was the result of an ultimate failing of trust in God's grace. But perhaps her backward glance was actually a tribute to all those beloved ones she was leaving behind, those many souls in varying degrees of darkness who would perish in God's destruction of the cities of the plain. For even in their darkness, those souls must have shone out sometimes in fragmented moments of goodness and beauty.

Or perhaps Lot's wife was a sort of bodhisattva, in Buddhist tradition a soul who vows not to attain its own enlightenment until it has assisted the liberation of all other souls. Or perhaps she was like Simone Weil (above), who, though she had received remarkable proof of the Holy Trinity in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, refused baptism in solidarity with all the suffering souls who would never reach heaven.

Conversion demarcates a life into the time of the old man and the time of the new, setting up a dividing line, a fulcrum upon which personal history pivots. But how many of us have not balanced uneasily on that fulcrum, our sensibilities drawn in grief and compassion towards the darkness we leave behind?


Maclin Horton said...

Well, there's me--that's one. (in reply to the question at the end of your excellent post)

Pentimento said...

Can you explain further, Maclin? Did the experience of conversion constitute a clean break in your life between the past and present?

Maclin said...

Well, I can't explain it very well without going into more personal detail than I want to do. It's just that I do feel very much the same way. There's regret for my own past, and a sadness about certain people who, as far as I know, remained behind, in the sense that they stayed, as far as I know, in the more or less godless frame of mind we had all shared at one time. And compassion for them. Was there a clean break? Yes and no. Most of the personal relationships that would have been problematic after conversion had already faded for one reason or another. Which was just as well. I don't think there was a perfectly clean break within me, in that I continued to value much of what I had valued then--the art and general sensibility, other things that could be loosely classified as culture.

Pentimento said...

Well, to repeat a quote I seem to keep quoting,

"Conversion is often portrayed as a positive event, a turning toward. It also has a negative aspect, a turning away. The event of formal adhesion [to the new faith] may consist of this flight toward the future and from the past. But . . . . the old life overshadows the understanding of the new. The event may produce a transformation; but something resistant to change informs understanding it, and retention of the old may indeed have been a condition without which there could have been no change" (from Karl F. Morrison's book Conversion and Text: The Cases of Augustine of Hippo, Herman-Judah, and Constantine Tsatsos). This has been true to my own experience.

A priest I knew once said that we are simultaneousl the same person as before conversion and a different person, and that the entrance of Christ into our lives sets up the line of demarcation between who we were and who we are.