“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
Thus, Ebenezer Scrooge, in Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, propounded the quintessential element of a genuine spiritual conversion experience: one’s course must change. If so, their former destiny will change.
We can see a similar conversion take place in Saul, who, “breathed out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1), until one fateful day, when he traveled on the road to Damascus. There, “a light from heaven flashed around him” (Acts 9:3). “Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice say to him:
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who art thou, my lord?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4–6).
And so, Saul underwent a powerful transformation and became Paul, the staunchest champion of the newfound religion he formerly oppressed.
Many individuals also underwent transformative conversion experiences. St. Francis had a vision in which Jesus spoke to him from the crucifix: “Francis, go and rebuild my house.” Francis followed his vision. He left an indelible mark on Christianity, lasting to this day.
Prince Siddhartha legendarily left his luxurious palace at age 29, only to witness for the first time, an old man, a sick person, a corpse, and an ascetic. Stripped of the protective atmosphere afforded by his palace, he encountered the all too realistic realities of this world. This caused him to renounce his princely life, and it set into motion his subsequent life as the Buddha.
In each instance, Scrooge, Saul, Francis, and Siddhartha were permanently changed. There was no turning back; they had no regrets about the new life that awaited them. They embraced the metanoia, the radical transformation that turned them inside out.
A true spiritual conversion experience totally affects an individual. It’s as though they walked from one reality into an entirely different reality. The changed person is not the same. Now, the vast majority of people conform with society’s norms. The rare persons who are granted this type of conversion experience no longer live among us. They see with new eyes and answer to a new calling. The critical factor that imbues them with the power to act on their conversion: they never compromise.
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world … it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”
Those who have undergone a true spiritual conversion experience inspire us on our own paths. These non-compromising spiritual giants set a standard for us to emulate. Their lives give ordinary spiritual aspirants hope and courage.
“And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”