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The Year Has Known Conversion

As I gaze out upon my leaf-covered lawn, I am reminded, “the year has
known conversion.” Bobi Jones wrote those words as he stepped out into
a springtime bursting forth into new life, confessing, “energy is
everywhere.” As he celebrates that “winter has gone to its fathers,” I
watch winter return and begin overtaking the golden autumn afternoons
with freezing breath.

And once again, I think about the phrase, “the year has known
conversion.” Nothing remains. Oh that the glory of trees raining
colored leaves might last just a bit longer. But the gentle wonder
gives way to barrenness. And the season is left behind.

My world has known conversion this year. As most of you know, our
building caught fire last February. The Living Room that had hosted
weddings and movie nights, retreats and a weekly liturgy, caught fire
one Thursday morning. I got a call after lunch. We recovered boxes of
books for future cleaning. Then a few of us began meeting in the home
again as we left that season behind.

More recently, my job ended. One Thursday. And in true literary style,
I got a call after lunch. After months of dropping sales, our company
began cutting jobs. I packed up a few boxes for future sorting. Then I
came back home to work and left that season behind.

Even as I write these words, I realize that I am addressing many other
people who have known conversion this year. Some of you lost your jobs
in the midst of this struggling economy. Some of you have lost loved
ones to death. Some of you have known the death-like agony of
separation and divorce. And some of you have watched your savings
almost disappear as the stocks keep tumbling down.

Much like the barren trees, our lives sometime reflect a season of
stripping away. A time of loss and death. We know the uncertainty of
conversion that feels like the world has come to an end. Almost
weekly, I hear some preacher declaring the end of the world is at
hand. And in some ways they are most certainly right. The world has
ended for some people.

Listening to a survivor of the Rwandan genocide recently, I was
transfixed by the sudden and horrible devastation that can bring a
family, a nation, a world to an end. It reminds me of the insulation
lives that most Americans live. Tragedy happens to the other guy: the
person on the other side of the world. When it comes close, people cry
out, “Why me?”

In other ages and times, people have wondered, “Why not me?” Why did
it pass me by? Earlier this year, I read Barbara Tuchman’s revealing
account of the 14th century in the “The Distant Mirror.” The century
knew conversion. Darkness descended across Europe in ways that no 13th
century person could have anticipated.

The dramatic progress of the 12th and 13th century came crashing down
as famine, black plague, war, raiders, and other natural and man-made
disasters brought the Western world to the brink of destruction. And
in the midst of this devastation, some towns prospered. One town fell
victim to complete annihilation by the black plague and another town
didn’t experience a single case, leaving survivors to wonder, “Why did
I survive?”

As I think about the chaos of the 14th century and I consider the
chaos that ripples across the world in the 21st century, think of the
Spirit of God who hovers over the waters of the deep. Again and again
in Scripture, the Lord shows up in the midst of flooding, fire, wind,
and death.

The Bible doesn’t present a world free of problems and suffering and
pain. Rather, we are confronted with a disturbing portrait of man’s
inhumanity against man. We see evil expressed in violence, war, and
all manner of human suffering. We behold people who face the same pain
and anguish and barrenness that sometimes comes close to our lives and
into our homes.

And yet, we also see God in the midst. The ocean of chaos that
threatens all order cannot threaten God. He consistently enters into
the midst of his suffering people. In the gospels, we behold the Lord
of Glory entering in to our frailty, our suffering, our pain, our
death.

And what does he do in death?

He creates a new man, a new world. All things are made new. The chaos
doesn’t threaten him. When the world seemed be coming apart in the
14th century, His Spirit brought winds of change in the 15th and 16th
century that opened new possibilities for people throughout the world.

When it seems like our world is colliding to an end, His grace can
heal and renew and revision and recreate our lives, our families, our
world. Whether we suffer sickness or job loss or financial problems or
relational strains. He has not abandoned us in this season of winter.

This brings me back to Bobi’s line, “The year has known conversion.”
When Bobi uses the word conversion, he is drawing from a deeper well
than just change. He is called upon this conversion that our Savior
reveals in His resurrection. He brings life out of death. He writes,

“Winter has gone to its fathers.
It was sharp; alive. And look at them here:
Life has triumphed over life, and death death
On this everlasting meadow that is
A Cross for the year.
Spring came through the mouth of the morning
Its tongue clamouring hotly on the petals of sunrise
Like the boots of a soldier coming home.”

His poem stirs my heart, as I continue gazing at the barren trees in
my yard. Even as the coldness of winter sometimes to grip our world
and our homes and our lives, He is coming. The Soldier who harrowed
hell is coming. And even in the midst of our endings, He is a
beginning. Let us rejoice at the newness of His grace that surrounds
us even now, and look expectantly for the new shoots to spring forth
in the midst of the old.

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