Monday, July 5, 2010

Conversion Experience

Walking is part of my meditation practice and my regular form of exercise. Usually I’m accompanied by my dog, Buddy (yellow lab/German shepherd). Sometimes I’m in prayer while I walk; often I’m wrestling with worries, fears, disappointment, or confusion. Many times, when I’d much rather sit in my favorite rocker and not expose myself to the rain or wind or both, I reward myself for getting out for a brisk walk by listening to my iPod. I keep a good supply of programs loaded on my tiny nano – selections from “Speaking of Faith” with Krista Tippett; Bill Moyers’ “Journal;” Barnes and Noble’s “Meet the Authors;” and “Weekends with Bob Edwards.”

Last week it was an interview from “Song of the Soul,” one of the programs produced by Mark Judkins Helpsmeet of Northern Spirit Radio, that got me out of the rocker and up the steep hill on a trail near my house. A year ago, Mark interviewed Alivia Biko, one of my friends from the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference (see previous post), so I downloaded their conversation (

Alivia is a gifted singer/songwriter and minister at Freedom Friends Church in Salem, OR. I’ve been moved by her clear, spirit-filled voice and lyrics many times at the Women’s Conference. Over the years we’ve had brief conversations, enough for me to feel I’d like to get to know her better. That happened as I listened to her share with Mark her life story and spiritual journey. She honestly and eloquently spoke of her childhood marred by abuse, her mother’s death by suicide, her own struggles with depression and chronic illness, and her spiritual path.

The part of Alivia’s journey that especially spoke to me was her “conversion experience.” Although she had attended a variety of churches in young adulthood, it was while she was hospitalized and visited by a chaplain that she had a new awareness of the love of God. She described it to Mark as one of those “mountaintop moments” that has sustained her through other low times. Mark labeled it a “conversion experience” and contrasted it to the typical description of such times being an awareness of our sinfulness and willingness to “give ourselves over to God.”

“Unfortunately,” Alivia said, “ever since I was born, I had been told I wasn’t good enough and there was something wrong with me. My conversion came through the recognition that in God’s eyes I’m good enough.”

As I listened to Alivia’s story and her song “The Art of Life” that followed, my pace slowed; tears filled my eyes. She had spoken to my condition, to my experience of taking God into my life. I, too, grew up with messages from my family and from the church that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t be trusted to do the right thing. Being loved, both by God and my family, seemed to me as a young child to be conditional, only available as long as I followed all the rules; behaved the way my mom, the church, and my friends told me I must. I lived in fear of doing the wrong thing, of angering God, of disappointing my family, and thus losing their love. For years I worked very hard, striving to finally be good enough to deserve their love.

Thankfully, I, too, had a wise friend, a Quaker woman, who convinced me that I’m beloved, that God loves me just as I am and yearns for me to be fully myself. She taught me about God’s ever-present, unfailing love for me—for everyone. I had understood well my shortcomings, my fallibility, my ability to sin. But I hadn’t taken in that God’s love is steadfast, even when I’m at my most human-like worst. When I’m being critical of and demanding of perfection from myself and everyone around me. When, out of feelings of inadequacy, I respond critically to differing opinions. When I talk, instead of listen; defend, instead of open.

Until I heard Alivia name her awareness of God’s unwavering love as a conversion, I had questioned the validity of my own discovery of God as an unconditionally-loving parent. I hadn’t fully accepted that my taking in of God’s unswerving love for me was my own conversion experience, that that was the change that was central to my spiritual journey.

Alivia went on to explain that after her own discovery of God’s love for her, she still had much work to do to recover from earlier wounds. I know that for her, and for me, this healing work continues. Alivia’s naming of her experience, though, provided some healthy tissue for my own deep wounds, and I’m thankful to her for telling her story.

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Blogging update – I checked Google Analytics and am delighted to see some numbers adding up about people visiting my blog. However, I don’t know much about what that means i.e. who these visitors are, how they got to the blog, whether they come back after a first visit. And of course, I don’t know what they think about what I’ve written unless they comment. I appreciate the comments people have written and am content to see how/if more dialogue occurs. I know I have limited time to read and comment on blogs, and I suspect the same is true for many others. For now, I’m still enjoying the discipline of putting into words some of my questions and reflections that arise from adding blogging to my spiritual practice.


  1. Yes, Iris: we need one another to help us reflect on and even name our own experience, especially our experience in understanding God's unconditional Love. Thanks for sharing such a tender piece here and other places in your life.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  2. I got here via quakerquaker; I'm glad I did.

    Indeed a common experience-- and as I found at poetry readings, when you think you've written something that applies only to you, that's when people tell you it happened to them too.

    A lot of us go back and forth between feeling unworthy, distrusting God-- & knowing better than that but needing some wise person's reminder.

  3. Hi Iris--I remember you from the Bellingham meeting! I have been living in Berkeley, Ca--but I am moving back to Seattle area this fall to be closer to my girls (Kesia $ Serenity) and their families. I'm a grandam! Kesia and her husband, Dustin live in Portland and she attends the Portland meeting. Serenity lives in Kirkalnd,WA and got married last fall.
    It was fun to find your blog via the Quaker,Quaker website--and see the wonderful book you have written! might like to check out my blog: in peace Aurora

  4. Hi Iris,

    I found your blog via QuakerQuaker. Your description of experiencing God as unconditional love really resonated with my own convincement experience. I had a rush of recognition, maybe the same way you felt when you heard Alivia's song and story. Thanks for telling your own story.

    Bright Blessings,