A Favorite Conversion Story

I was talking with a good friend about deconversion, and we commiserated that it’s a depressing topic. He told me of one of his favorite conversion stories, which I had read years ago and loved for its power and authenticity. It’s from the autobiographical writing, in Traveling Mercies, of Anne Lamott.

She was going through a very tough time in her life, addicted to cocaine and alcohol and just having had an abortion of a child conceived in an affair with a married man. In the week after the abortion, she took to bed with alcohol and pain medication. She writes (p. 49-50):

“After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there–of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”

I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.

Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.

This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.

And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling–and it washed over me.

[After going to church that weekend]…, I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said ‘F— it: I quit.’ I took a long deep breath and said out loud, ‘All right. You can come in.’

So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.”

Thank you Steve Bell–carpenter and intellectual.

  • Dawn

    Anne Lamott is one of my favourite writers and I too, love her conversion story and ongoing journey. Thanks for sharing her with a broader audience.

  • http://mikecrowlsscribblepad.blogspot.com/ Mike Crowl

    Yes, Anne Lamott’s conversion and ongoing work at discipleship has been both hilarious and honest. She’s a very down-to-earth writer.

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Her book Bird-by-Bird is still my guide to how to write…

  • Ed Babinski

    Lamont says, “I knew beyond doubt.” If only everyone had such knowledge. Instead people suffer everyday with doubts. Christians do. People of other religions do. We all do. But on top of such doubts there is the added pain that comes from reading about the penalty for doubting, as in the fourth Gospel, “He who does not believe is condemned already.” And in a chapter of the Gospel of Mark, a chapter that was canonized as authentic holy teaching for nearly two thousand years (until the advent of textual criticism), “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” So, believe or be condemned/damned.


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