Where do we hear the voice of grace?

flowerAs Alan Jones celebrated Eucharist one Sunday, in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, he couldn’t help but notice a young man standing at the very back of the sanctuary. His clothing (atypical of “church attire”) and his uneasy demeanor gave him away.

Alan could not tell if the visitor was entering, or wanting to leave. Even so, the young man stood against the back wall for the entire service.
As members of the congregation processed to the altar for the bread and wine, the young man waited, unmoved, at the back wall.
His curiosity piqued, Alan made a point to seek out the young man. In conversation he learned that this young man lived on the city streets, that life had been unforgiving, and is now fighting a most formidable foe, AIDS.

“We’re glad you are here.” Alan told him, “But why did you stay in the back of the church? Why didn’t you come down to the table for communion?”

“I didn’t think I would be allowed in.” The young man replied.

In a national magazine, an ad for the Humane Society minced no words. Above an adorable puppy and kitten, the ad read, “It’s who owns them that makes them important.”

So I wonder. Who or what owns us, that tells us we are not invited to the banquet?

I think we’ve all been there…
As if we are on the outside looking in.
As if who we are, or what we bring, is not enough.
As if our very value rests on public opinion.

We gathered in the Arizona desert this weekend–a group of men–an annual retreat here at the Franciscan Renewal Center. We talked about living authentic lives. And the willingness to admit that it’s easier said than done. If we’re honest, we are more afraid than we let on; or our passion gets buried; or the script for our lives comes off the rails. And being men, we set about the mission (obligation?) to seek answers, as if authentic living is all about righting the ship. Missing the point that being invited to the banquet table is about letting go of the predisposition for explanations or remedies.

Letting go is not easy to do in our world of unrelenting pace, with measurements predicated on achievement, appearance and accomplishment. In such a world grace is all the more unbelievable. Hurry or busyness or role–playing can own me and becomes the default setting for my worth and my value. So deep down, I know what that young man meant. Because I know what it feels like to believe that I need to earn my way in.

What is the antidote? To let grace and mercy surround us.
Or in other words: Sabbath rest.

…a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. (The book of Hebrews)

Above all else, Sabbath rest = a gift of grace.
As in, you are invited.
As in, our rest (our identity) is in this embrace–this presence, this love, this invitation–of the Creator. In this embrace–we savor, rest, find solace, comfort and restoration.
Sabbath rest is grace, because this is not something we do. Sabbath is something we don’t do. In other words, it’s not about orchestrating anything. Or creating a spiritual event, or cheerful mood or balanced day.
It’s not just about putting down my tools.
It’s not just about blocking out a day.
It is about reveling in the abundance of the Creator’s goodness.
It is about openness. Play, savoring, delighting.
So I ask you. “Where did you here the voice of Grace today?”

‘Man is born broken,’ wrote Eugene O’Neil. ‘He lives by mending. The grace of God is the glue!’ Which is a nice way of saying that living is the healing. Vulnerability is not a weakness. It is a strength. Very few of us are tough enough to be soft. But we wouldn’t value it without a reminder now and again from a fellow journeyer.

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.  Albert Schweitzer

Here’s the deal: It is a holy place when humans discover each other in love. “We’re glad you’re here. Why don’t you come down to the banquet?”

Some time back, my friend had the courage to tell me that his life was on the brink, and he held himself back, not thinking he would be allowed into a life (or world) of abundance and permission and joy and grace. He didn’t ask for my advice, and I didn’t really have any, but wanted to write him anyway. “I was thinking about your comments–re: being excessively fragile and vulnerable–thinking that I didn’t know what to say, sipping my Dow’s Port while watching the Monday Night Football, and remembering the times in my life when I felt on the edge or in some way susceptible to shattering (both shattered, and shattering someone, anyone around me), and trying to remember what triggered those times, and I came up with zero. If all else fails, I’d be more than happy to pour you a glass of Port and offer you a chair on the back deck to watch the sun set over Puget Sound, and hope for a little luck that maybe we’d see a bald eagle float by, and tell you that I don’t know much, ‘but that sure is a damn fine eagle, isn’t it?’ Who knows; before the light gives way completely, we could wander over to the garden and take a hit of fragrance from the rose Souvenir de la Malmasion, and marvel at the different ways the gods let us get intoxicated, loitering in the moment, knowing full well that this drunkenness–like any other–comes with a price; the bittersweet reality that it can never quite fill that pit in our soul, even though it comes close, Or, we can stay put on the deck, crank up the music, let Mr. Clapton fill the dark and the empty spaces, swap stories with a good friend, and hope that the gods are taking notes on recommendations for ways to make eternity tolerable.”

I’ll be on a plane later today, headed back to my island in the Pacific Northwest. Whenever I travel in the summer I miss my garden, and I’ll walk it tonight to see what magic has transpired in my absence. (It’s easier to miss my garden when the heat index in Scottsdale is near 110. But then I’ll be back down in January for another retreat and you won’t hear me complaining then.) I will tell you this: the night air here is comforting and soothing–and in a way intoxicating. I love how the demarcation of the mountains–the deep caramel coloring of Camelback in dusk light–frames an endless sky of cobalt blue.   

POEMS AND PRAYERSIf you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood,
divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn
for the vast and endless sea. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I Want to Surrender
God, I want to surrender
to the rhythm of music and sea,
to the seasons of ebb and flow,
to the tidal surge of love.

I am tired of being hard,
tight, controlled,
tensed against tenderness,
afraid of softness.
I am tired of directing my world,
making, doing, shaping.

Tension is ecstasy in chains.
The muscles are tightened to prevent trembling.
Nerves strain to prevent trust,
hope, relaxation…

Surrender is a risk no sane man may take.
Sanity never surrendered
is a burden no man may carry.

God give me madness
that does not destroy
Sam Keen

For the morning light 
and its irresistible dawning,
for your untamable utterances of life
in countless stretches of space
and the strength of the waves of the sea
I give you thanks, O God.
Release in me the power of your spirit
that my soul may be free
and my spirit strong.
Release in my the freedom of your Spirit
that I may be bridled by nothing but love
that I may be bridled only by love
Celtic Benediction (Island of Iona)





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