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Triumph of grace

In the emergency room, Benny’s face is black and blue, caked in dried blood, his eyes pinched shut, his lips swollen and bleeding.  In the middle of the night, two men had broken into Benny’s home, beaten him severely, and then robbed him.  A terrible thing to happen to anyone, but especially heinous when you know that Benny is a seventy-year-old mildly mentally handicapped man recognized through his neighborhood for gentleness and generosity.  Even more evil when the detective concluded the thieves knew Benny well enough to know he’d cashed his pension check that day.
“In moments such as these, it’s hard to believe in the triumph of grace,” Philip Gulley writes (If Grace is True) about his encounter with Benny.  “Evil seems far from defeated.  I’m tempted to believe in a salvation that includes everyone but the men who beat Benny.  I had to fight my rage as I tried to comfort him.  We talked about the attack, his injuries, the good prognosis from the doctor, and then I asked him if I could pray with him.  Benny nodded his head and said, through swollen lips, “Don’t forget to pray for those men.”
When I read this the first time, I had to put the book down, and whisper, “Wow.”
Probably because I can tell you I don’t believe I would have been that large-“souled”.  But, then, you never know until you’re in that bed.
This much I know… if you guzzle the news these days, we live in a world where fear undermines and outmaneuvers grace too often.
I am a news junkie follower, and some days, I can’t make sense of it. The violence, the uncertainty, the polarization. Although we don’t need the news to remind us that life can be, at times, harsh, unfair and unkind.
The effect is that—even if only in a small way—each one of us knows that there are times when life is just “too much.”
Too heavy. Too precarious. Too uncertain. Too depleting.
Times when we’ve said (or prayed to any deity that would lend an ear), “Please help me. I don’t think I have what it takes.”
Even then, I want to believe in the triumph of grace.

Do you remember the movie Jaws?  There’s a great scene where the local sheriff is chumming for the great white shark.  And out of nowhere Jaws appears.  The shark is gigantic, more enormous than the crew imagined possible.  They are, understandably, terrified.  (Of course, the music–da-dum, da-dum, da-dum–doesn’t hurt for amplifying the suspense.)  The sheriff says carefully, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Yes. “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
I love this metaphor. (And a great job title: “Bigger boat business”.)
Think of our “boat” as a reservoir. A reservoir of strength and resolve and grace and permission, which assures us we cannot be undone by life’s cruelty or capriciousness.
And that bigger boat makes room to welcome gifts, triumphs of grace. I just watched a wonderful montage (put together by the Washington Post), videos of people reuniting (grandparents, grandchildren, friends, relatives) after a year of separation and quarantine. The release and hope in the smiles. My oh my, it does the heart good.

And here’s the deal: Benny lived his life from a bigger boat.  His “forgiveness” is not a ploy to “move on.”  Living large-souled is not about making our lives into a nice tidy narrative.
I received an email this week inviting me to “get the life I deserve.”  (“Now that’s what I’m talking about!”  “I mean, the things I’ve put up with…” “It’s about time!”)  Truth be told, the email made me laugh out loud.  And, I thought of the story of Benny.  Life is not about what I “deserve,” as if life must yield or bend to my druthers (which becomes a life lived so self-consciously).
No. This is about…
The life we create.
The love we share.
And the light we shine.
The fine print here is that we live this way only when we are free to be vulnerable and tender hearted. It’s not that I have anything against striving or praying or achieving or dreaming.  They are all well and good in their place.  But it backfires if there’s an implicit agreement (or hope) that I can avoid life’s pitfalls–as if a pitfall means that I’ve failed at life.  Because what do I do with such an agreement?  I live cautiously.  I choose to be afraid.  I close down my heart. I withhold my love and my forgiveness.  And I rage on the inside.
I talk about (and teach about) boundaries. The permission to make choices both from self-nurture, and for self-nurture. The permission to make choices from a replenished self.  And let us remember; boundaries are not just about what we say No to, but what we say Yes to.
It’s no surprise that we often teach from our own place of struggle and limitation. (Will I learn to add the word No to my vocabulary any time soon?)
I do know this… there are many times I don’t believe that my heart (my “boat”) is big enough.
I know that I cannot access that reservoir as long as I am running with a deficit. You name it… time, patience, energy, resolve, heart, fortitude.  Because when I only see the deficit, I believe that my identity is owned by fear, I am stuck, and I shut down.  And I don’t listen to my heart.
Benny’s overture of grace came from a reservoir, deep inside.  It was not required.  It was not done to impress.  Yes, any one of us can be selfish, petty, fearful, controlling, conflicted, wary and driven.  But Benny’s story reminds me that any one of us has the capacity to be open, vulnerable, heart filled… yes, with the capacity to be moved, trustworthy, forgiving and generous. A triumph of grace.

Jean Houston told a story of being befriended by the extraordinary French Jesuit, paleontologist, and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. She’d literally run into him in Central Park when she was 14 years old; following their collision, the two became friends.  “It was extraordinary. Everything was sentient; everything was full of life. He looked at you as kind of a cluttered house that hid the Holy One–and you felt yourself looked at as if you were God in hiding, and you felt yourself so charged and greened with evolutionary possibilities.”
The journey begins when we allow ourselves to fall into this grace. A cluttered house that hides the Holy One. True, there are many times when we may not see the Holy One in ourselves, but it shouldn’t keep us from singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” followed by, “Don’t forget to pray for those men.”

Bob Dylan is 80. So I’m listening to, “I shall be released”. My favorite.
I had a good conversation with the geese this morning. I ask them about their kids growing up in a world that doesn’t seem to get any easier. They give me that look, “just because it isn’t easy, doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.”

Quote for your week…
What would happen if security were not the point of our existence? That we find freedom, aliveness, and power not from what contains, locates, or protects us but from what dissolves, reveals, and expands us. –Eve Ensler


Today’s Photo Credit: “Terry, This is one I took from the window of an Amtrak train, in the way home from Washington DC. It’s just at sunset, over the harbor at Occoquan. I hope you enjoy it!” Tracey Davidson, Glen Allen VA… Thank you Tracey… Keep sending your photos… send to [email protected]
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In the mailbag…
–Terry, My wife and I appreciate you and your ministry so much. You often quote Rabbi Heschel and we would like to read and learn more from him. When I looked up his available books, there were many and all look interesting. Would you recommend one or two as a starting point? Thank you and many blessings to you, Steve Tefteller
Hi Steve… I recommend I Asked For Wonder.

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If it ain’t in you, it can’t come out of your horn. –Charlie Parker

I Don’t Want to Live a Small Life
I don’t want to live a small life. Open your eyes,
open your hands. I have just come
from the berry fields, the sun
kissing me with its golden mouth all the way
(open your hands) and the wind-winged clouds
following along thinking perhaps I might
feed them, but no I carry these heart-shapes
only to you. Look how many small
but so sweet and maybe the last gift
I will bring to anyone in this
world of hope and risk, so do
Look at me. Open your life, open your hands.
Mary Oliver

Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder.
Surprise me, amaze me, awe me
in every crevice of your universe.
Each day enrapture me
with your marvelous things without number.
I do not ask to see the reason for it all:
I ask only to share the wonder of it all.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel

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