-by KRISTEN ANNA-MARIA HAUCK, Obl. OSB has a MA degree in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield, Vermont and lives in a tiny hermitage in Maine.
“Easter 2018 marked my eleventh year as a Catholic. Since that Vigil eleven years ago, I have been asked many times, particularly by those who knew me previously, what on earth happened to cause such a conversion? I’m still trying to make sense of it myself. I find myself asking not so much how it happened, but rather how on earth did it not happen sooner? Surely I share in the lineage of Jonah, having preferred the storms of life and the stomach of a whale to the will of God.
Each time I consider my experience, I only become more aware of the ever wider circles emanating from a point in my history that, although one point, traces a life only God could draw. But then, isn’t this so with every conversion? Are we not all called to be formed in such a manner and likeness, to be Christ-like? So have I been formed through my continual conversion.
My first epiphany of Jesus Christ occurred very unexpectedly during a casual sushi lunch with a member of my dissertation committee in the fall of 2005.
Though I was a year and a half into my dissertation, I had only just begun its writing. My dissertation topic was the influence and significance of the Dionysian in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Six months into my dissertation, I threw everything out. After my own exegesis and research into both the cult of Dionysus and Nietzsche’s work, I found myself struggling with what I argued was Nietzsche’s own conclusion: in order to reveal the wisdom of the Dionysian, which is to say, the wisdom of suffering, one must adopt poetic language. This was problematic since there is nothing more unpoetic than the dry prose of a research dissertation. So I went back to my dissertation committee and presented a new proposal, outlining the production of a tragedy that would demonstrate what I believed Nietzsche had been trying to express about the Dionysian.
Did I have experience in theater? Of course not. Did I know how to format a play? Nope. Did I even have the vaguest idea of what that tragedy would be? Not until that sunny afternoon in the fall, eating lunch with Frederick Turner, poet, professor, and member of my dissertation committee. One might consider it pure luck that I was permitted to depart so radically from traditional scholarship. But I had long grown suspect of such “luck,” having already experienced the impossible so many times in my life.
By the time I met with Professor Turner for this lunch, I had done independent studies in theater, researched Greek tragedy, and turned my attention to a study of the Christian faith. I reasoned that if I were to produce a tragedy with the same cultural and pedagogical impact of the ancient Greek tragedies (this impact being precisely what Nietzsche was trying to express, I argued), then I would have to use a contemporary “myth,” or set of religious beliefs, within which to work. Living in the United States in 2005, I saw Christianity as the obvious milieu. Constructing the specific story out of the Christian archetypes, however, did not prove such an easy task. It was this lack of a specific story that led to the lunch meeting. I was intending to show what I had produced thus far as well as discuss my difficulties in coming up with anything novel. I told the professor all about the success of the “Greek Festival” I had presented the previous weekend and was stumbling through the number of pithy story ideas I had. There was a very long pause. Then Professor Frederick Turner spoke:
“You know what I think the story is? I think the story is about a God …. a God who became man …. and He loved this girl. And, though this girl loved Him very much, too, she did not know Him. And when He came and knocked at her door, she did not recognize Him….”
Honestly, I do not even remember the rest of the conversation. I only remember wanting to flee the emotion welling up inside me as quickly as possible. Indeed, even now, the same emotion bleeds tears in my eyes. Riding home with a fellow scholar who had joined us, I broke down sobbing. When my friend inquired, I could not hold back my emotion as I cried out, “How did he know? It’s me! I’m that girl!”
The fact was I had lived my whole life searching for truth. It was the reason I had decided at the age of 16 that I would study philosophy. Yet this scholarly pursuit itself became a mask. By the time of my dissertation, it had become a well-rehearsed performance disguising the true reality — the wild imagination of a little girl who clung desperately to a fairy tale. And in this fairy tale, the girl was a princess destined for a soulmate, a Prince who is “faithful and true,” who would come riding upon a white horse to save her (Revelation 19:11). But who was He? Where was He? Was He even real? I had spent the previous 30 years convincing myself it was pure imagination.
Yet, suddenly, over a casual lunch of sushi, the mask was torn off, and the fairy tale I sought desperately to ignore lay open before me. I went home and tried to continue work on my dissertation, at the same time resorting to any means at hand to blot out the truth revealed to me that day.”