The gift of grace
By my desk, a waste basket half full of wadded Sabbath Moment starts. None of them felt right. Or adequate.
Like a Doctor visit I recall. “Where does it hurt?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“Does everywhere count?”
As one friend put it, “We’re in crisis. No dispute there. Can’t name it, only feel it. We just know it’s not fun to feel drained or empty.”
Working with a Navajo community taking care of covid patients, Dr. Sriram Shamasunder, wrote the poem “To walk in beauty once again,” which includes these lines;
Fragility sticks to everything alive like the quiet wetness of morning dew
in this global pandemic
as a doctor
I see this fragility
Threatening to swallow so much of what we love
like a large red blanket covering a small bed
and I can’t unsee it…
This is the year of submission
I can’t decide which
And, on my walk this morning, there were no geese. That was a surprise. I’m learning to count on them. It’s as if recent events undid them too, and when geese are unable to find their voice, you know something’s amiss.
A doe and her young one stopped, untroubled by my presence, and measured me. I stood with them for a while, and it calmed my spirit.
On a podcast this week with my friend Charlie Hedges, he asked what I would say to those who believe we are falling apart.
Just a guess, but my initial silence wasn’t good for podcast airspace.
Then I tell him, “Actually, Grace is my only hope.”
You are a gift from God.
There are days when that’s hard to fathom. And internalize.
Because of what grace invites: Participation. Metanoia. To be unafraid of dark places. 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.
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. The preacher told us so. With a puffy livid crimson face. I can still see it in my mind.
In High School, my favorite 45 (no, we had no ipod), was The Beatles, The Long and Winding Road (the A side). (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. (This is an odd turn of phrase, 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 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.
That’s why I’m not a fan of religion. You know, the kind that trucks in, and requires dominance and control, fearing ambiguity and festering insecurity. No surprise, this need to sit up straight, to tow the line, to earn something, while deep down, assuming that we are fooling everyone, somehow pulling a fast one.
All of this because it was a place from which I could be “right”, meaning I spent time diminishing and dismissing anyone different from me.
Public opinion is a big deal in this culture. And we easily believe our press releases, and Lord knows we find solace in moral rectitude.
But here’s the deal: God wants us to let go of our desire to appear good, so that we can listen to the word within us and move in the mystery of who we are.
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace; only that it needs us where we are but it does not leave where it found us.” Yes and Amen. Thank you Anne Lamott.
Apropos on this, Martin Luther King Jr Day. Dr. King didn’t set out to become a civil rights activist; he said later that if he’d known what the job would entail, he might have turned it down. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to become a preacher; as a teenager, the way people shouted and stomped in his Baptist church sometimes embarrassed him. But during the boycott (chosen to lead a boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama when he was only 26), after he was assaulted and arrested and his house was bombed, he experienced what amounted to a religious conversion. He said later that he realized that the movement had far greater force than his own doubts, and that he had to act like a charismatic figurehead even if he didn’t feel like one. (Thank you Garrison Keillor)
Grace does not leave us where it found us. Grace leads to restoration. At home in my skin, the world I leave today is brighter, kinder and more hopeful.
It may be counter-intuitive to ask, but where is grace alive and well for you today?
I’m still unpacking, and finding my way in a new home. Walking every day.
Praying for peace this week for the inauguration of our new President and Vice-president.
Quotes for your week…
The greatest glory in living lies not in falling, but in rising every time we fall. Nelson Mandela.
God is delighted to watch your soul enlarge. Meister Eckart
SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s Photo Credit: Greetings Terry, My home overlooks the Chemung River where I get to experience the seasons a little differently than I have in the past. I moved here from a home with large gardens and many trees and now have tiny spaces for gardening. While I still miss my large gardening spaces, I have discovered nature in a different way and I have learned to pause to see what there is to see. Regardless of the season, the river valley offers inspiration and often a bit of humor. On the day these images were taken, the river had pretty much frozen over, something that rarely happens these days. I watched in amusement from my window as the Canada Geese navigated the slippery surface while moving from one area to another. Instead of flying to their destination, they splashed, skated and slid on the slippery surface till they reached the other side. The antics of skating geese provided a bit of amusement on a bitterly cold day, Eve Davila… Thank you Eve… Keep sending your photos… send to email@example.com
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In the mailbag…
–Thank you, Terry, for your words and stories. They always start my Monday and week ahead on a more meaningful note with perspective and purpose. Many blessings to you, and to Judi B who I’m cc’ing here because I’m eternally grateful she connected us. Have a great week! -Jill
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, “Prove that you are a good person.” Another voice says, “you’d better be ashamed of yourself.” There is also a voice that says “nobody really cares about you,” and one that says “be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.” But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small, voice that says, “you are my Beloved, my favor rests on you.” That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us “my Beloved.”
Henri Nouwen, Bread For the Journey
Come to the table
You are welcome if you are waiting
You are welcome if you are buried
You are welcome if you are hidden
You are welcome if nothing’s happening
You are welcome if you are growing
You are welcome if you are flourishing
All are welcome at God’s table,
especially those who know they are poor, weak and broken.
God is here, the One who makes the seed grow
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.
Excerpt from, To Bless the Space Between Us