Thursday, March 29, 2012

my story is quiet, letter twenty-one, hilary to preston

On Tuesdays and Thursdays around these parts, Preston and I write letters back and forth. We share the wonder of mystery, grace and our encounters with mercy. We hope to see you in the comments. Read the letter I'm responding to here.

Dear Preston,

I've never been to an altar call. I've never said the Sinner's prayer. I've never felt a tug on my heart from the Holy Spirit to walk up an aisle in front of crowds of people and tell the world how much I believe. The thought of it makes me shy: a mole who wants to bury back in her sheets, snuggle back down in the warmth of a grey sweatshirt or the old, carved out words of the Confession. I don't think I'd have the right words to share my testimony.

I don't have a dramatic story about converting to Christianity. I was raised in it, in the rhythms and patterns of the liturgy. I took first Communion in a dress from a children's second hand shop that I begged my mother to buy me. It was white with big splashes of pink roses, with a lace collar. I wore white patent leather Mary Janes and walked up to the altar with my parents on either side, and my brothers and sister, and held out my small hands.

That's the moment that changed it all for me. The weeks of learning about what the elements were, why we had Eucharist every Sunday. I read the stories of Jesus sharing that last, hallowed meal with his disciples and I wanted to be there. I wanted to sit at the table and eat food blessed by Him. I wanted to talk to Jesus.

So I knelt there at eight years old, knees sinking into the old red velvet, and finally felt the weight of the bread pressed into my hands. I heard the words: the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven, keep you in eternal life. I squirmed with delight at those words - because in them I heard His invitation to always be with Him in that last, hallowed meal. The invitation to talk to Him and meet Him and belong to Him.

The wine came around next, and I watched my wafer carefully dip into the chalice and come back out, without spilling wine on my dress. The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation. I put the wafer in my mouth and felt it sit on my tongue. I walked back with my parents, back to our pew and our blue 1982 Hymnals, and I felt new all over.

My story feels quiet compared with an altar call. I always wanted a big story about grace, about how God swept in and shifted everything, about a who-I-was-before and who-I-am-now that look like opposites. But I have a quiet story about a First Communion that was at least partially a big deal because my best friend down the street was a Catholic and had a big party with relatives and ice cream cake for her First Communion. I only have the quiet stories from the same pews in the same few churches. I only have stories of Hilary, do you love me more than these? But no Saul on the road to Damascus.

You're right to wonder about what evangelism looks like in the liturgical tradition. I wonder about it, too. I'm glad you're calling yourself an evangelical again. I don't know if I call myself one - part of me wants to. But part of me - the part that can't name the time or place where I became a Christian, the part that loves Tradition and the saints, the part that leans into Eastern winds just to catch a few refrains of the Lord, have mercy - wonders if I am, or could be.

But maybe the truest definition of an evangelical is someone who aches to meet Jesus, someone who puts their heart at risk for love and grace. Maybe the truest definition is someone who kneels down, altar call or Eucharist, pew or gym floor, in someone's living room or at St. Peter's - and prays for grace.

My story is quiet - but I'm on my knees.



  1. He changes us!  Whether by lightning bolt or by increments over our whole lives.  Thank you for sharing your story with us - of when you felt new all over.

  2. Mine is a quiet story also. I don't remember not ever being in church. Such a beautiful story here, Hilary. I think each of our stories are beautiful no matter how quiet or loud they are. 

  3. Thank you, Joanna - it is a joy to share those stories of being new all over. I'm so glad I get to hear yours. 

  4. Yes, I agree - I love the diversity of beautiful stories God weaves through our lives. Thank you for sharing yours with the world. 

  5. Yes. So much of this is my story as well. It used to make me uncomfortable to talk to my evangelical friends about when they "became a Christian," because I can't pin down a moment; I've just considered myself as always being one. In a literal sense I have never prayed The Sinner's Prayer, but in a broader sense, I've prayed it every Sunday since my first communion at 5 -- I just call it the Prayer of Humble Access.

  6.  I say that prayer every week, Jennifer! I am glad that we can share these quieter stories with the rest of the Christian community. God works in beautiful and diverse ways! Thank you for stopping by!


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