Holly Ordway

Re-Writing My Life

A memoir of conversion, revised.

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I was forced, then, to confront the question of re-writing remembered dialogue. I realized that even in the first version, my reconstructions of conversations were shaped by my 2008-author's understanding of theology. Since then I had learned a great deal, and—probably more to the point—I'd had five more years of experiencing God's grace (including a year of the fullness of the sacramental life as a Catholic). I knew, at an experiential level, many things that my earlier author-self only knew about.

As a non-Christian I'd had difficulty not only with believing in miracles but even with understanding what a miracle really was. As a convert in 2008 I still had a fairly hazy notion. In the first version of the book, I wrote: "If God did choose to interact with the world, it made sense that He would do so in a way that was meaningful, because Reason and meaning were attributes of the Creator, above and beyond the natural world that He had created." In the revision, as I looked at this passage and its context, I realized that the "if" and the "above and beyond" pointed to my narrator-self's compartmentalized picture of reality, with a God who stood apart from a creation that carried on fine without Him.

I couldn't recover exactly what Josh had said or I had thought about miracles back in 2006. What I could do was fine-tune that passage so that what I said, as the narrator, about miracles was in line with what I now knew to be true, scrubbing away the film of naturalistic assumptions that still clung to it. In the new version, I cut that line, and added: "It made sense that God could be involved in the world in and through natural causes, like a gardener pruning and watering to selectively guide the growth of plants already in the ground; but apparently Christians also believed God could work like an artist, painting new images directly and surprisingly onto the canvas of reality. There didn't seem to be a sharp line between the natural and the supernatural the way that I expected. Properly understood, both evidenced divine activity—and the former was in fact a subset of the latter."

A subtle difference, perhaps—but I knew that it signaled a real change, from a more abstract "head" knowledge to a more integrated faith. One could argue that the original version reflected my thinking closer to the time of my conversion, and that I was disturbing the pure accuracy of my account by revising it. Maybe. But there's only so much interior development that the reader will stand. To trace in detail all the slow, painful progress of my faith and thinking, with its ebbs and flows, its anticipations and sudden accelerations, would have been scarcely possible for me, and certainly unbearable for my readers. And in any case, I'm sure that this more mature understanding of miracles would have been accepted by my younger self if she'd had it explained to her at the time. And so, for the sake of brevity and clarity, I did a little bit of retroactive concertina-ing; it's an example of how, as I re-wrote my life, theology showed itself to be more important than chronology.

As I made these revisions, I realized that one more stage of re-writing was needed, to correct my slightly younger self at a fundamental level. I had changed, from the time that I'd written the first version; I had grown in my faith and matured in my understanding. In the first version, I had subtly framed my narrative of conversion as something I had done—as if I had been the active agent, seeking God first, rather than responding to His grace that He gave me first.

Certainly I believe that I had the ability to respond to God or reject Him. "He cannot ravish; He can only woo," as Lewis writes somewhere. But God, not I, took the initiative and provided the very means by which I was capable of choosing Christ. Probably I would have agreed with that statement in 2008, but my language showed that I didn't fully grasp it. I unconsciously cast my conversion as almost a favor that I was doing for God: I accept Your existence; how good of me, how intelligent of me to do so!

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