CONVERSION | by Gail Dennig
What is it called when suddenly, a moment of profoundness lights a dark corner of one’s awareness; when a presence, an awareness hints at clarity? According to John Ruusbroec’s The Spiritual Espousals, that flash is blic, an ephemeral glimpse, initiated by God, into one’s elevated spirit. Blic changes one’s awareness of God and creates conversion, a deeply private emotional and spiritual shift. Such moments of conversion are how one learns to trust and love that which cannot be seen, God.
Change starts in a moment of blic but so often we are blind to its presence and it escapes our notice. Life is loud, unpredictable. We have lists of priorities, agendas, obligations, and responsibilities. With eyes either turned to the ground or glued to a screen, God’s light misses us and we plunge deeper into darkness.
When all seems well it’s easy to forget God. Smooth sailing, self-congratulations, complacency. How are you? Couldn’t be better! Move on. Faith becomes rote. Humility is lost in a sea of self-importance. We do not listen, think, hear – there is no time.
Ruusbroec writes of a “valley of humility” from which enlightened grace emerges and thus sparks conversion. We are all brought low at times, often not recognizing it until we sit at the base of the proverbial valley, in complete darkness, wondering, “how did I get here? What happened?” For Theodore Ryken, such a moment brought clarity. He was open to receiving and recognizing God’s light. We also need to look up and be receptive to the awareness that God is love and allow His presence to change us. Then, see what happens from there.
There are times when overwhelming circumstances throw us on our backs. Illness, death, tragedy, news of local and global atrocities spawn echoing lamentations. “How can God let this happen?” In the darkness of despair and hopelessness, slamming the door on Light and rejecting the possibility of God creates a damaging grudge that closes eyes, ears and heart to everything but emptiness, pain and darkness.
Recently, a dear, longtime friend suddenly lost her 25 year old daughter. Admitted to the hospital on a Friday with flu-like symptoms, by Sunday Meg was dead, ravaged by unidentified sepsis.
How could this happen? Is this God’s plan? To take a vibrant, hopeful spirit and crush her? To cast a loving family into unbending, endless grief? I was lost and angry.
Blic: Light came, sounding like warmth, from my own daughter’s words: God doesn’t make these things happen; He gives us ways to cope and find strength. He gives us prayer and each other, and Himself. His light gives hope, hope that we will see His love, hope that we will learn and grow from the source of all life, and that we will better serve Him and one another. Yes, I think I see . . .
In his recent encyclical, Pope Francis urges us to “listen to nature’s cry” and reject a culture of self-gratification. The ebb and flow of nature reminds us that change is constant and conversion is a process with no end. Opening ourselves to mindfully observing and preserving our environment invites illumination into God’s life source.
Blic: The treasures of river life ask for patience. Watching the tide’s silent rhythm I watch birth, growth and flight of waterfowl. Crows screech warning as a red-tailed hawk swoops down to snack on an overly adventurous duckling. Unaware of the hawk’s power, the duckling ignores the alarm. The cycles of seasons, tides, birth, resiliency, death and renewal reveal the grace and virtues God is willing to teach me, if only I am open to His gifts and listen to His presence. Yes, I think I see . . .
Through patience and contemplation, we become aware of God’s presence; when we listen we turn more to Him. By being “powerfully aware – in a moment of blic” (Ruusbroec), we see, hear and fall more in love with God as we go.
Moments of conversion are unexpected; tiny pulses bringing life to faith and trust in God: Small, ordinary, common, yet intense momentary flashes of power and love. By trusting, listening, reaching out to others, and mindfully being open to God’s presence, our dark valleys will see light.
Blic: Sedona, Arizona boasts some of the most spectacular landscapes and natural light shows in North America. Spirals of sandstone and limestone glow red, growing from the desert floor, creating vortexes of what is believed to be spiritual energy.
High up in the formations, one with the mountains, nestles Holy Cross Chapel. Its natural, unassuming presence respects nature’s grandeur and celebrates God’s splendor. Entering, I lose my breath, eyes tear, and I cannot speak. A sense of Presence, of Grace, of intimate immensity is palpable. For a moment, I feel God. Really. It changed me. Conversion. That moment stays with me still. Yes, I see . . .
Ruusbroec, John. The Spiritual Espousals, Book 1,6., Trans by James A. Wiseman OSB (New York and London, 1985).
About the Author
Gail Dennig is a Xaverian Associate. She holds graduate degrees in education and law and is a member of the English department at St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Massachusetts and a practicing lawyer in Groveland, Massachusetts.
If you would like to leave a comment for the author or the journal editors, please submit it below. Your comment may not appear right away; but know that we have received it! If you are interested in submitting a lengthy response to any of the contents of this journal, or if you would like to submit any original content that relates to our theme, we invite you to contact our editors through the comment section below.