This Lenten season, I decided I needed to do something to enhance my faith. People often give up something for Lent – chocolate, swearing, Twitter, etc. But I’ve always liked the idea of adding something meaningful, so I chose to read From Fire, by Water, which is a conversion story.
I’ve always admired converts because, unlike “cradle Catholics” like me, they have really had to think about their beliefs and then undergo a process of selecting which religion best matches what they believe. At least, that’s how I assume it works. There are probably many variations. The point is, it’s very intentional.
In From Fire, by Water, Sohrab Ahmari shares his own personal experience with conversion. Mr. Ahmari is currently the op-ed editor for the New York Post and previously wrote for the Wall Street Journal. He has a really interesting background. He was born in Iran to mostly secular parents (but technically they were Muslims). He grew up on a steady diet of American movies which cultivated a love of Western ways and the ability to speak English with an American accent. He emigrated with his mother to the United States when he was 14, settling in a small town in Utah. It was a rough transition and one that resulted in disillusionment. He began to reject American ways. At one point, he became a communist and an atheist. This wasn’t on a whim – he studied some heavy duty works by some heavy duty thinkers. He’s a smart guy! But his beliefs were fueled by cynicism.
After college, he worked for Teach for America for two years, teaching underprivileged kids in Brownsville, TX. His motive wasn’t altruistic, it was more like he didn’t have anything else to do. He was still a disillusioned atheist at this point, and one that wasn’t happy with his life and what he was becoming. He next went to law school and started writing opinion pieces for various publications. He found his career but hadn’t yet found his faith, but it was starting to emerge, sign by sign.
His conversion wasn’t lightning quick like Paul on the road to Damascus. Rather, it was gradual and formed by certain incidents in his life. These experiences are interesting in and of themselves. We get to hear about life in post-Shah Iran, communist fringe groups, his experience with the TFA and what he experienced when he went undercover and embedded himself with migrants fleeing the Middle East for Europe. I found the accounts of his boyhood in Iran particularly fascinating. That country has always been mysterious to me and it was interesting to see the curtain pulled back a bit.
He procrastinated making his commitment to the church. The tipping point for him was the Catholic Mass, which I’ve always found powerful, as well. He approached his decision making process with the same rigor he had previously approached his youthful communist leanings, meaning he read a lot of heady stuff. (Bonus, he includes a good reading list at the back of his book.) But his conversion wasn’t all about scholarly opinions – he also felt, in his soul, that this is where he belongs. It’s a lovely, personal testimony. I’m glad I read it.
Reminder – if you’re participating in the 12 Months of Reading Goodness challenge, in April we’re supposed to read a Pulitzer Prize winner. I’m tackling Lonesome Dove. It’s over 800 pages, so you may not hear much from me the rest of the month.