When those two get together, you just know the result is going to be interesting.
And it was.
There’s lots to read, and you can find it here. I want to focus on one aspect of that free-ranging discussion: Katrina’s conversion story.
Kat came to Jesus by way of art. Imagine this: A seven-year-old who spends a lot of time in museums (already it’s getting unusual) spies Memling’s painting, The Last judgement. She’s small enough that her eye-view is of the bottom of the painting. She’s nose to canvas with the lost souls in hell. The prospect convinced her that hell was real.
Sam’s response, “You found God in hell?”
That sounds like a reasonable question to those of us who’ve never been converted by art. I mean, how does that track?
Here, according to Kat herself is how:
If Hell is real then it stands to reason that God was real. Simple as that. Why do atheist struggle so? Their arrogance to dismiss their first instinct… that child voice plainly stating a fact as fact. There’s nothing intellectual about “well, duh!” which is what happened when I saw Hell. Well, duh! God is real.
She goes on to add, “Landscapes showed me God is kind.”
Katrina is not the only person I know of who was converted by art. Peter Hitchens related an almost identical conversion experience in his book The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (which I recommend) and then later in this interview. Peter Hitchens, who is the brother of the famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, found God by studying Rogier van der Weyden’s The Last Judgement.
Hitchens was an adult at the time of his conversion. He described it this way:
… I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of hell. These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation … They were me, and people I knew.
Do you recognize the Power at work in both these stories? Hint: It’s not the power of great art, although the power of great art is certainly real.
This is the Holy Spirit, at work in two souls, calling them to Jesus. These stories illustrate the single most powerful truth of conversion that I know: God meets us where we are. He is not too proud to accept us through any route to Him we find. In the Person of the Holy Spirit, He will call to us and reach out to us along any path that we will walk to Him.
The fact that God meets us where we are has other facets to it besides His willingness to come to us through a painting or a sermon or the guilt we feel for our sins.
One of these facets is that He does not ask us to get perfect first. Too many times, people who are trying to bring people to God focus on the other person’s need to change.
The truth is, you don’t need to change to come to God. All you need to do is say “yes” to Him. The changing part comes later, and it will be through a changed heart and converted spirit. As I’ve said, God doesn’t change what you do. He changes what you want to do.
But at the beginning, all you have to do is open your heart — or in the case of Katrina Fernandez and Peter Hitchens and others like them, their eyes — and say yes to what is right in front of you. There is no one right way to come to Jesus. Jesus Himself is the Right way.
Kat and I both experienced another, second, conversion. This one was to the Catholic Church. In the usual Kat fashion, her experience was sudden, a bit defiant and absolute. Mine was gentle and insistent. But despite the differences, it was the same for both of us.
Kat attended a communion service in a church where they offered communion, which I would wager they regarded as a “symbol,” in the form of grape juice and oyster crackers. Kat, being Kat, rebelled. She knew. Knew right then without any dissembling that this was not the real deal. She also knew that there was a real deal out there somewhere and that she wanted it. Here’s how she describes it:
It was Easter Sunday and the pastor wanted to “do communion” and wanted to try something a little different so he had us all line up to come to the “altar” and receive a shot glass containing grape juice and a packet of oyster crackers. And God said “NO!” I immediately knew this aping display was not the real thing. I grabbed my son under my arm and got up and left.
She was, in short, called to the Church by the Eucharist.
Welcome home Kat, so was I. Only for me it was an almost constant call from Christ in the Eucharist. He called me for years to Himself in the Eucharist. When I finally found Him there, I experienced the healing of the woman who reached out and touched His garment.
That same healing is there for anyone, anytime, in all the Catholic Churches of all the world. Conversion, real conversion, is a one-way street. Once you’ve found it, you know it’s real and you can never walk away from it. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is real. Life in Christ is a living reality.
I love conversion stories when they’re told by people with authentic hearts. Every single one of them exposes a truth of God’s love for us and His simplicity in dealing with us.
Conversion stories are always elemental stories of birth. They relate the dynamics of how a soul is born from eternal death into eternal life. And just like that first biological birth, they happen to each one of us individually. Because we are each unique and wonderful enough that the God Who made everything, everywhere, accepts us as the old hymn says, Just as We Are.
Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.