Add "former atheist" to playwright, novelist, and filmmaker Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's bio
These are the most tantalizing stories: an unpredictable and unexpected encounter with God by an atheist, a man educated by non-believing parents—a student of Diderot and the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, born in 1960, philosopher of education, playwright, novelist, prolific director, is a well-known cultural figure in Europe—a transalpine mover of the culture. In the October 6 edition of Avvenire he agreed to discuss the story of his conversion, which occurred one night in 1989 in the Hoggar desert, the Sahara.
Traveling with friends, Schmitt had lost his party and ended up spending the night alone in the desert, where, he says, he experienced an all-consuming encounter with God. “To say a person is converted—to say [he] has made choice that is active and voluntary—I must admit this is not exactly what I experienced that night in the desert. Rather, I received a grace and an extraordinary gift, and I have retained within me and all about me an open space for that gift. So if you call me converted, you may define it as one that has ‘received a revelation.’
“‘Received a revelation’ is the expression that best characterizes this experience, over the word ‘conversion,'” says Schmitt, “because it admits to the surprise of the gift I received. I was not looking for God, but I knew that God was looking for me. So I had the gift of surprise, of the unexpected, and this revelation for me was just the beginning. ”
Returning to France, the playwright has spent his time reading various mystic poets of different religions. “After that revelation,” he says, “I made a journey to the discovery of the Gospel. And there’s been a very active work on my part, just to understand this text full of contradictions, within which I experienced a conversion. So in summary: in the desert, a revelation; with the Gospel, a conversion. ”
Interestingly, the story of Schmitt’s revelation is very similar to the experience of French explorer Charles de Foucauld, another famous convert, and his encounter with God in the heart of the Sahara. After that de Foucauld became a hermit, initiating a great work of evangelization in the Near East. “His strength,” explains Schmitt, “was that he did not seek to compel Christian conversion, but that he simply gave witness to the Gospel, with the example of his life. Just as Christ did in his time.”
By Gelsomino del Guercio for Aleteia; translated from the Italian