Monastic Strategies: The Tides of Conversion of Life

Monastic Strategies: The Tides of Conversion of Life October 20, 2020

The Tides of Conversion of Life

People who enter monastic life cross a threshold of three essential and complementary vows. They commit themselves to live, as far as they are able, into stability, conversion of life, and obedience.

Each one of these commitments becomes the focus of exploration and discovery. My reflection and contemplation have transformed my own understanding of each of these vows.

For example, I once understood conversion to be a once in a lifetime event. My earliest conversion I remember was when I was eight years old and heard a devotional speaker. It was clear to me I needed to make a choice between spiritual life and eternal punishment in a fiery place. The common sense of an eight year old was enough to move me toward my first conversion.

With experience I gained more insight into conversion. Going to school and moving for work, I discerned new communities in which to grow in spiritual life. Each time I found a way to put spiritual life into new words was the seed of another conversion for me. I began to recognize conversion was not the once in a lifetime tsunami I had thought it was. Conversion was more like the regular rhythm of the tides each day.

Over time the tides convert the shoreline, wearing away what is there as well as depositing new patterns. In the same way spiritual life works for conversion within us, adding and removing to shape our shorelines.

Spiritual life within me was not necessarily trying to transform me immediately in a flash of lightning. The regular flow and ebb of spiritual life was working on changes as I continued to grow and learn.

Even the times I set out intentionally to build or strengthen spiritual life were often washed away.

Daily Tides of Conversion

The tides of conversion of life wash over all the beaches of our lives. There are times when we recognize them as particularly spiritual, while others seem more intellectual or emotional or political.

We stand on the beach and watch some waves roll onto the shore. Others push deep inland. A rising tide might lift us into spiritual ecstasy while a tide flowing out can leave us stranded high and dry.

Each day the flowing of the tides draw us into spiritual life.

One of the most significant recent tides for me has been a growing affinity for contemplative spirituality.

Part of contemplative conversion for me has been coming to appreciate spiritual life is beyond my control. There is nothing I can do to schedule or enhance how spiritual life flows within me or in the world around me. The practices I follow are not intended to harness or focus the power of spiritual life. Contemplative spirituality is about finding a new, balanced relationship with spiritual life.

I can neither push nor pull the tides of conversion to serve myself.

Several years ago the tides of conversion washed me up on the shore of monastic life. Conversion included books I read, people with whom I talked, and places I visited. Waves carried me toward, and then over, the threshold of those three essential, complementary commitments.

My conversion of life continues as a daily pattern of being open and mindful to where the tide is taking me. While the pattern of tides may vary, their rhythm is constant.

Every day is filled with opportunities for conversion of life. They are not all lightning bolts or tsunamis, but flow from the steady, regular work of the tides.

Openness to Tides of Conversion

We open our eyes each morning to opportunities for change.

Some of us have decided not to be open. We could be convinced we have found the final truths for which we have searched. Others of us have never spent the time or effort to explore spiritual life in al its depth or variety.

We may believe spiritual life is more about finding answers than asking questions. The dies of conversion cannot entice us to leave our comfortable spaces to see what we might discover.

Others of us are overwhelmed or intimidated by the choices spiritual life gives us. How can we know what is true? It gives us headaches to try to sort through all the possibilities and all the choices. We decide to settle for what we have been taught, not to explore spiritual life for ourselves.

It took me years of struggle and serious thinking before I was ready to sit still and watch the tide coming in and going out. Each tide of conversion altered the shoreline for me. The challenge is being ready and willing to sit still and allow the tides to convert me.

What insights or questions will today’s tides draw us toward? Where will they lead us to explore?

How Will Conversion Change Us?

There is no roadmap or checklist for conversion of life.

Each of us faces the challenge of following where conversion leads.

Conversion of life reveals parts of ourselves, and of spiritual life, we could not guess existed. Like the tide, conversion clears away what we do not need and gives us what will help us build change.

It might be easier for us to pretend we are changing ourselves through our own effort and willpower. We like to believe we see ourselves clearly and understand how we need to change. The tides of conversion are more than simply setting goals or making resolutions.

We are not forcing ourselves to change and step into new patterns of living. Each day has a rhythm and the tides convert us to follow those rhythms.

We sit still, watching and listening, being open to spiritual life within us and in the world around us.

Spiritual life does not force itself on us. The tides wash over us and convert us as we are open to them.

How will we enter into conversion of life today?

What will the tides of conversion reveal to us this week?

[Image by cogdogblog]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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