[… continued from this post]
One day when I was around 16 my mom called me and my sister into the living room and offered us a deal: Read this book, she said, and I’ll pay you $5 for each chapter that you read and summarize for me. The book was Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
Why did she bribe us to read it? Recall that we had received virtually no religious training or instruction. My sister and I were age 16 and 17, practically adults (legally at any rate). She knew that if she simply pushed it on us we would read it in a desultory manner at best, and would likely accuse her of cramming religion down our throats. So she hit us in our weak spot: money.
We might have understood this much. What we didn’t understand was what brought this on all the sudden. Is it just a matter of sociological interest, or have you really bought into it? My mom, a Christian? Really??
It turned out she had started going to Mass on weekdays after work. She had driven by a church one day and went inside on a whim. She hadn’t been to church since the changes to the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council. She had assumed that Catholic churches were now empty, since the common liberal wisdom was that the Church was in its death throes and that religion in general was giving way to modern scientific materialism. But to her shock and amazement there was actually Mass going on, and there were people! One thing led to another and she felt herself continually drawn back to the Mass, and before she knew it her faith had been rekindled.
Getting back to the book: Here was a thing that had that old savor which I associated with my grandparents’ home. It was like nothing I had ever read before. The reading was rough going for me since you had to pay attention and follow his train of thought, which was new to me (I was a poor student in a public high school). But the language and style, and the sheer rationality of it, were captivating. And persuasive. For the first time I felt like here was someone who could make sense out of life and who could really *reason* (“what a wicked mind!” a friend would later exclaim ironically), and not merely sneer and assert.
I didn’t experience an immediate conversion upon reading it. But I also couldn’t dismiss it. He could be wrong. But if he was right I wanted to know it. It had become important.
All this I told my mom, and she made another proposal: Try praying. (She didn’t offer me money for that.) Well, I can’t, I would feel silly. I don’t know whether I’m just talking to myself. Try it anyway, she said. Tell him exactly what you’re thinking: God, I don’t know if you’re there or if you can hear me, or if I’m just talking to myself. But if you’re there, and if you’re what people claim you are, then I want to know it. So please help me to know it, if that’s what you want from me. Amen.
I did it, and … nothing. Nothing I could put my finger on right away, but in hindsight I mark that as the beginning of my conversion.
In the meantime, and over the next couple years, I couldn’t ignore the change in my mom. Whereas she had been distant and unaffectionate, she gradually became, well, happy. Whereas she had been all business and responsibility, she was now often playful and funny. She became a joy to be around. She started hugging us and telling us she loved us, which in our earlier childhood had almost never happened.
[To be continued…]