Dawn Eden manages to make chastity funny. Not ha-ha funny, but way funnier than I thought. Now that's quite an accomplishment, don't you think? I know it never got a belly laugh out of me before.
Eden, the 39-year-old author of The Thrill of the Chaste, stopped in Dallas last Saturday on her speaking tour and talked chastity with a room full of Catholic women of all ages. Eden warned us upfront that she has a stammer, and "when I talk about sex my stammer goes into overdrive."
Never happened, though. Instead, Eden came across as a woman who's fully embraced living chastely. She's funny, charming and persuasive. Well, good for her, I say to myself. I hope it all ends soon -- really. In the nicest possible way.
After reading her book and hearing her speak, I took with me a new understanding of the meaning of intimacy, with or without sex, married or no. Read it, OK? What I really want to talk about, though, is Dawn Eden Goldstein's Christian conversion experience. I am fascinated by such stories, and Eden's is particularly interesting.
First of all, she was raised in a Reform Jewish household, but as a young adult she considered herself agnostic.
As I wrote last week, Eden started her writing career as a music journalist in New York. In December 1995, when she was 27, she did an interview by phone with a musician named Ben Eshbach of Sugarplastic. Eden said she thought she'd ask him "a really bright, erudite question that he normally doesn't get asked." So she asked him what he was reading. Says Eden:
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"Keep in mind that this was not a Christian band. He told me he was currently reading The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton, and that it was good. So I thought, 'OK, I'll impress him then, and go out and read this.' So I picked it up having no idea what I was in for -- absolutely no idea. It's a novel … so you know that Chesterton is one of the greatest Christian writers ever, and he's an Anglican convert to Catholicism -- but he wrote many of his best and most popular works, like Orthodoxy, at the time he was still Anglican.
"So I picked up this novel, and I realized not only was it an exciting novel of the kind that I really liked -- it reminded me of my childhood love of Lewis Carroll and of whimsy -- but this also had an adult plot. I picked up fairly quickly that there was something going on beneath the surface, and I realized that it was about two kinds of rebellion. The rebellion of the anarchist, which is the rebellion that just seeks to destroy without building up--just rebellion for rebellion's sake. And the second kind was the rebellion of beauty and truth against a fallen and dark world.
"I realized that the first kind of rebellion, Chesterton was saying, was the false rebellion, and the second kind was the true rebellion. And Chesterton thought the true rebellion was Christian. Reading that and realizing that I myself had gone through life identifying with the anarchists, the false rebels, I felt like a poseur. At the same time, I couldn't quite reconcile it -- I could see that Chesterton was an exciting writer, and I really wanted to side with him, but I couldn't imagine Christians being as exciting as he made them out to be … I just though Christians were this faceless, white-bread Moral Majority mass who ruled the world. And I thought that the only way I could be an individual and a rebel was to rebel against them. So The Man Who Was Thursday planted seeds, and I started to try to read all the Chesterton that I could get my hands on … I probably hold the record for reading the most Chesterton within a few years without actually being converted by it.
"But then in 1999, when I was 31 [four years after the conversation with Eshbach], I began to get back to reading the Bible, and the reason why was because I was working for Kim's Video, which is a chain of video stores in NYC. [Eden was a writer and editor for the non-pornographic portion of the chain's Web site.] I'd been losing money for a long time as a rock journalist and freelancer, so I was trying desperately to get some full-time work on my resume. But at this job I was harassed on a daily basis by my boss, who was a Palestinian. See, my full name is Dawn Eden Goldstein. And so my boss, it just turned out that apparently the reason why he hired me because he wanted his very own Jew to kick around. So on a daily basis he would come up to me and say the most vulgar, pornographic, but like really disgusting things, and one of the more printable things that he said was, "Your people killed 57 Palestinian children yesterday," things like that.
My mother by that time had converted to Christianity. When I was 16, she converted to Catholicism, and by then, she had fallen away and become a Messianic Jew. We call it fallen -- you wouldn't call it fallen! [She laughs.] My mother was a charismatic Catholic when I was a teenager, and it scared the … blanketies out of me! Yeah, I couldn't deal with all that speaking in tongues. So I asked my mother what to do, because I sensed that I needed some kind of spiritual help, and also I just sensed that if this guy hated Jews so much, there must be something good about being Jewish. And I also didn't distinguish so much between Judaism and Christianity, because even though I was agnostic, my mother's Messianic Judaism had been rubbing off on me.
"My mother recommended that I read Psalm 27, which I did. I still had a little Gideon Bible that someone had given me on the street when I was at NYU … I was praying that I would be laid off from that job so I wouldn't have to tell any future boss that I was fired. And so prayers were answered. But I'd been suffering from depression for many years, and had been feeling just sort of forgotten by God. I'd kind of gotten used to going through these periods where I had a prayer answered, and I'd think, 'Yay God!' and then I'd go back to feeling depressed. So even though I was laid off, it didn't convert me.
"But then one night shortly after that, I had this experience which did convert me -- though at first it just really scared me. I woke up during the night and I couldn't move … It's called a hypnagogic state, where your brain hasn't yet given your body the message to move, so you feel frozen. I heard this voice and I felt this presence in the room, and at first when I woke up I couldn't remember what I had heard -- I just knew there was something that had been there and I was scared to death.
"Later that day, this sentence popped into my head, and I realized that was what I had heard spoken when I was lying there frozen and in bed -- it was in a woman's voice, which I thought was really weird, because even though I was agnostic, I was convinced that if there were a God he was a man. And so it wasn't like something I could have made up. And the voice said, 'Some things are not meant to be known; some things are meant to be understood.' And that freaked me out. I thought, 'What does that mean?' I became convinced that had to be somewhere in the Bible, so I was wondering where in the Bible it would be.
"And just in my mind I was directed to read Romans 5:1. So I looked, 'Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.' And I realized that what I heard in my dream was really the answer to an unspoken question -- because my question had been, 'How can I believe in God when I don't have proof?' Because I'd always been thinking if I have enough answered prayers, if enough people tell me there is a God, then maybe I'll believe. But the message was some things are not meant to be known, some things are meant to be understood. Some things are not meant to be known by external knowledge … if I had the understanding that comes from faith, then the knowledge would be added to me. So I got down on my knees that night and prayed the sinner's prayer."
How did you know to pray that? I asked.
"Because I'd been staying at my mom's house," she says, "and I asked my mom and stepfather, who likewise identifies as a Messianic Jew, 'What do I do now?'
"So the next morning I woke up and was completely healed of my depression. This was this suicidal depression that had plagued me for years -- it was cyclical. And I had faith. And I had to learn not to be depressed, which was really strange … Now I had to learn to live as though I was going to be alive indefinitely. God is great -- he knows how to reach each of us where we are." --Julie Lyons