I’ve recently become familiar with the work and life of Eric Metaxas, a father, husband and Yale graduate perhaps best known in the world of Christian parenting for his award-winning Veggie Tales stories. But Metaxas is much more than a cartoon-character creator and humorist. He’s also the author of some serious and best-selling books, including his latest, a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer — pastor, spy and martyr. Bonhoeffer played a part in the so-called Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler, which failed.
I interviewed Metaxas by phone from Seattle, where he was doing some work before heading back to his New York City residence. He’ll be speaking in our area in March, so I had the privilege of picking his brain a bit to help introduce him to our community. When I asked him what drives him, he credited his faith, but also admitted to many “rudderless” years earlier in his life. Groundwork for faith had been evident during his German-Greek Orthodox childhood, but he’d mostly renounced the possibility of God as an enlightened college student.
In his mid-20s, Metaxas had begun looking for answers to life’s biggest questions and came upon various theories, including Carl Jung’s idea of the collective unconsciousness to define God. Around that time his uncle became ill and fell into a coma. When a friend offered prayers, Metaxas was taken aback, moved by the thought that some people actually believed there was a God who cared enough to listen to earthly concerns. When his friend suggested they pray together, he said yes, surprising himself, and in that conversation, he felt an interior shift. Shortly thereafter, he had a dream that changed everything, as he explains in an online video of his conversion.
Several elements merged in the dream; the symbolism of his Greek Orthodox heritage, his love of fishing and his own intellectual ideas melding Jung and Freud. In his waking hours, he’d imagined a frozen lake with the ice being the conscious mind and the water beneath being the unconscious mind, or God. He’d concluded that the goal of life was for the two to have some kind of conversation, and that one should strive to drill a hole into the ice to get at the moving water below.
In his dream he was standing on a frozen lake ice-fishing. He recalls glorious sunshine and brilliant blue sky. He looked down and saw a fish coming up through the fishing hole, so he leaned down and picked it up by the gill. It was a golden fish — like in a fairytale — a miracle, he said.
And suddenly, he recognized that the fish was Christ and that God was speaking to him through the dream. “I realized, it’s true. Jesus is real and I have him, I’m holding him,” he recounted, “and I’m flooded with joy because I realized God used my own symbol system to sort of one-up me, to blow my mind, because all I wanted to do was reach through the ice and touch this inert water, and God is saying, ‘No, I have something more for you. I have my son, Jesus Christ, and He’s a living person. He’s alive.’”
Ever since hearing this story, I can’t get it out of my mind. Perhaps it’s my propensity toward visual learning, combined with my own love of fishing and fond childhood memories of ice-fishing in particular. I can’t help but wonder what ways Christ may be pushing up through the ice of my life to draw me toward the living water.
I commented at my faith-sharing group the other day, on the Feast of St. Lucy, how much in the dark we are in this life; that there is so much we can’t see and know right now. I see Metaxas’ symbol of the frozen lake as the visible of our lives, and the water beneath as all that is invisible now, but that we’ll see someday. I also believe we’re given glimpses of this living water during our earthly journey but not the ability to fully immerse in it.
Conversion stories invigorate me, and even though this isn’t a Catholic conversion story, it won’t be the first time I’ve been deeply moved by the example of a fellow Protestant sister or brother in Christ. A recent newspaper article I wrote about a fellow faith mother and blogging friend inspired me plenty. I hope it will have the same effect on you. Here it is.
Also, if you’re interested: Metaxas’ conversion story in his own words.
Q4U: Advent is as much about conversion as anything else, it seems to me. What about conversion is most inspiring to you?
Copyright 2011 Roxane Salonen