2011: History is filled with stories of supernatural conversions to Christianity, and the multitude of epiphanies and flying crosses could make the mere Christian self-conscious about his or her pedestrian introduction to the church. So here's a conversion story both modest and almost unbearably twenty-first-century. Vito Aiuto, pastor of the Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg, details his discovery of faith for The New York Times:
He described himself as a “garden-variety fraternity guy” who experienced a spiritual conversion at age 20, when he had an anxiety attack after taking too many caffeine pills washed down with beer during exam time.
“I felt like I was going to die,” Mr. Aiuto said. “I felt like I was plunging into this black hole, and I said: ‘Dear God, if you’re real, please make this stop. I guess I’ll change my life, and I don’t know what it’ll mean, but you have to help me.’”
Nothing happened, and he left his exams and retreated home. “I had perceived my life as an amusement park ride: I’m going to do the most drugs and be with the most people and do the most extravagant things and pretending I’m Jack Kerouac, and nobody’s experienced this like I have,” Mr. Aiuto said. “I kept thinking, ‘You got to a place where you were so desperate you knew that if there’s a God, only God could help you,’ and the dominoes fell pretty quickly after that.”
386: Perhaps not the most fantastical, but certainly the best-documented tale of rebirth in the church is that of St. Augustine of Hippo. After experimenting with a few pagan and Gnostic philosophical schools (and fathering a child with a concubine), Augustine settled on an allegiance to the Catholic Church. The decision was made when a little voice told Augustine, frantic over the contrary forces in his spirit, to pick up and read the letters of Paul, an experience he later recounted in his spiritual biography The Confessions:
I cast myself down I know not how, under a certain fig-tree, giving full vent to my tears; and the floods of mine eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to Thee. And, not indeed in these words, yet to this purpose, spake I much unto Thee: and Thou, O Lord, how long? How long, Lord, wilt Thou be angry for ever? Remember not our former iniquities, for I felt that I was held by them. I sent up these sorrowful words: How long, how long, “to-morrow, and tomorrow?” Why not now? Why not is there this hour an end to my uncleanness?
So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighboring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read. “ Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me: and by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee. Eagerly then I returned to the place where [my friend] Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence. No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.
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