This week we’re talking about Lagniappe (“lan-yap”). (It is an old Creole word that means “something extra”.)
It is the permission to receive—to be embrace by—the gift of grace.
The gift of sufficiency (over and against scarcity).
It’s important to pause here, and remember that this gift is not (in our western mentality) a commodity or product that we need to accumulate and retain.
No, this gift is an invitation. And a paradigm shift. To receive and be embraced by what is here (our heart alive and well), now.
To know what the Celtic church calls thin places. “A thin place is anywhere our hearts are opened,” writes Marcus Borg. “They are places where the boundary between the two levels becomes very soft, porous, permeable. Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts, and we behold (the ‘ahaah of The Divine’) all around us and in us.”
We’re into our new year. And some still wondering where last year went. Some grieving significant losses. And some eager for new choices ahead. And for all of us, the gift of grace—the ahaah of the Divine—is alive and well, allowing us (wherever we are on the journey) to still be here now, in the sacrament of the present moment.
Because here’s the deal: When we see with our heart, it’s no longer about protecting ourselves from life, but from letting (or allowing) more of life in. And, if we do–just for a moment–we may find ourselves (in the words of Henry Miller) living aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.
Yes. And amen… grace allows us to see, and to spill, the joy in the ordinary,
in dollops of gentleness, kindness, connection,
empathy, compassion, generosity,
wonder and healing.
I often return to Frederick Buechner’s writings. Much of it lagniappe for me. So, we’ll give him the final word today. “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
“It is not for me to tell you who you are, but please let me share this small insight. The beauty of your life is contained in its simplicity. You were born to be an agent of grace, sharing kindness into the world. You are an unconscious healer, restoring hope into the world. These two simple definitions are a spiritual job description. They represent the core of your calling. I believe they describe all of us, uniting us into a shared purpose. Beyond all of the differences we construct among ourselves, we have a common task. Agents of grace. Sources of hope. If we see ourselves in this way, the complexity we imagine becomes the simplicity we are.” (This from Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw elder and retired Episcopal bishop.)
Agents of grace.
Sources of hope.
I like that. Sign me up. But the script doesn’t always play out like we plan does it? So, what happens then? What happens when tragedy bumps up against life’s fragility and messiness and incongruities?
Like last night when the NFL stopped after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during the game.
It’s not just a matter of what choices we make.
There are moments when (beneath the choices) we ask, “what really matters?”
Easy? Heavens no. Not even close. And now, we’re back to the necessity of grace.
You see, grace is not something that you mentally ascribe to, a theological statement you check off. Because grace is only real when life is, well, real. You know, messy, confusing, difficult, ugly, uncertain.
So, grace is about letting go of our need to have it all in black and white, or figured out. And we start by asking, “How do we receive the gifts and arms of grace and compassion even in the mess?” And maybe even more important, “How do we embrace the fact that it is in our DNA to have the capacity to be the arms of compassion (agents of grace, sources of hope) in the mess, especially to those who really need them?”
Grace helps us remember when our humanity comes back to us.
About the game last night, I was grateful for this from Will Leitch. (And even for those of you who have zero interest in football, it is still good for the heart.)
“It is instructive — to understand the nature of football, the way its players and fans and executives respond to the potential mortal peril of its inherently violent nature… So, the real takeaway was that just about everyone involved with the incident responded to it: They thought about the player rather than the game. This is unusual, in every aspect. Football is a dangerous sport in which players are inherently disposable, in which dozens of players suffer brain injuries every week, in which contracts are not guaranteed, in which life expectancy for players is a full seven years fewer than baseball players. The entire economic structure of the sport is constructed around the games (and television inventory) being completed as scheduled, one of the many reasons the NFL was so aggressive in playing its regular slate on time in the middle of the pandemic. Football is the show that must always go on.
But on Monday night, everybody stopped, focused on one man, and thought about what mattered and what didn’t. It seemed obvious that they had to stop the game, for Hamlin, for his teammates, for all of us. But for most of football history, it wouldn’t have been obvious at all. Monday night was a deeply emotional moment that (almost) everyone involved handled with grace and compassion. And that’s different. That’s progress.”
In the town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, there is a church named Lagniappe (“lan-yap”). It is an old Creole word that means “something extra”.
Yes, life may be uncertain, but the party still is on.
And there is only one requirement–bring who you are.
This is not about who you are supposed to be.
Or who you should be.
This is not about the denial of pain and suffering.
Or the denial of grief and loss and hardship.
Or even the denial of death.
It is about what the people of Bay Saint Louis knew. If there’s a party, jump in with both feet. Pastor Jean says, “they take every drop of juice out of the lemon that they can get, and they love it.”
Here’s the deal: We are primed for grace.
But let’s remember this; grace is not just a theological check mark (mental affirmation).
Grace happens when I find or know a place where I am at home in the arms of love. Grace is the gift of enough.
I’ve written about my own wrestling with depression and the overbearing messages of “you are not enough.” And when people ask me about navigating depression, I tell them, “Actually, Grace is my only hope. But gratefully, grace is alive and well.”
Grace: You are a gift from God.
I know… There are days when than is hard to fathom. And internalize.
Because of what grace invites: Participation. Metanoia. To be unafraid of dark places and dark times. To see that gift in others, even when it is buried. To embrace the permission to try again. To let our light shine.
What does grace have to do with navigating our days?
Grace tells me that my well-being and value is a given. Without it, I will underestimate my capacity for spiritual hydration. I underestimate my immune system for fighting toxicity. When I lose sight of grace, I live embattled internally, so it’s no wonder I do battle externally and live fearful.
So. Today… let us put down whatever’s on our “to-do” list, and sit for a spell with this Hafiz poem…
Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does anything weird,
But the God who knows only four words.
And keeps repeating them, saying:
‘Come dance with me, come dance.’”
(translation by Daniel Ladinsky)
What does grace have to do with navigating our days?
We begin here: Grace tells me that my well-being and value is a given. Without it, I see scarcity and not sufficiency. I underestimate my capacity for spiritual hydration. I underestimate my immune system for fighting toxicity. When I lose sight of grace, I live embattled internally, so it’s no wonder I do battle externally, and live fearful.
Truth be told, and gratefully; I smile real big remembering a time when grace became real to me.
I was raised in a church that didn’t believe in dancing. (Come to think of it, they didn’t believe in anything that spawned pleasure of any kind, and though I can’t prove it, I think they were opposed to giggling as well.)
As a teenager, church camps would have bonfires for the sole purpose of burning anything that came between us and God. (I wish I were making this up.) And one thing was certain: We knew God hated rock ‘n roll (and was quite displeased with anyone who listened to it). The preacher told us so. Many times. With a puffy livid crimson face. I can still see those sermons in my mind.
In High School, my favorite 45 (no, we had no iPod or Spotify), was The Beatles, The Long and Winding Road (the A side). (Good trivia: on the B side, For You Blue.)
And… I’m not sure how I acquired it, under my parents’ radar. This I know; I used to play it over and over and over, and let the music carry me to some kind of bliss. And now, the preacher told me that my record was an occasion to sin. And suffer God’s displeasure. (Sin is an odd turn of phrase here, since the music brought me such unconditional delight).
On a summer night, my vinyl-45-record burned, with many others, and we watched the smoke carry our sinful ways into the Michigan sky. I told this story a few times at various retreats.
Fast forward thirty-five years. I am speaking in the Anaheim Convention Center. Two friends walk up to the stage and present me with a slim cardboard mailing box. On the outside is written, Amazing Grace. On the inside, a 45-vinyl record, circa 1970, The Beatles, The Long and Winding Road.
I am certain of this: there was more grace in that gift than any sermon I have ever heard. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but I can’t see God unless there is skin attached. And because of grace, there is no substitute for the presence of one another.
So yes. Grace is my hope.
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany (Feast of the Three Kings), so the Christmas tree will come down sometime this weekend.
And as I write this, I’m listening to The Long and Winding Road in my earbuds, letting the tears flow.
As our Christmas benediction, let’s carry with us these words from Madeleine L’Engle:
This is my charge to you.
You are to be a light bearer.
You are to choose the light.
Prayer for our week…
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
(To Bless the Space Between Us)
Photo… “Hi Terry, I often read sabbath moment when wake at 3 am and I can’t go back to sleep. Glad it’s in my inbox and it seems to be a good time to quietly reflect. It’s been a year of much change- exhausting, painful changes- and after reading Rilke’s famous advice about “living in the question” I found myself searching for more of his advice to carry into the new year….so valuable to shifting my thoughts! I can’t imagine how much you read and dissect to put into one daily Sabbath moment and introduces me to so much thought provoking awareness. Thank you. This photo was taken last week walking the cold cobbled streets in a small, quaint village in Germany. Seeing these long stem cut amaryllis for sale outside a flower shop stopped me in my tracks. I have never seen a stalk this long growing from a single bulb! And wrapped bundles of amaryllis for sale too! Oh, how I’d love to see how and where these are grown. I believe I bought a single bulb for a Christmas gift for 4 or 5 times the price of a single stem. Finding these was a thrill one gardener had to share with another (me to you). I should have paid for the seat next to me on the 12 hour flight home to have a place for a very large bundle to accompany me. The thought is more marvelous than actually doing it.
Happy New Year and thank you for your messages that remind me to live fully! Best,” Peggy Jackson