"...Why are you striving these days
Why are you trying to earn grace
Why are you crying
Let me lift up your face
Just don't turn away
Why are you looking for love
Why are you still searching
as if I'm not enough..."
I have been thinking alot about the word "grace" lately, and what it means to me. I heard this song, "By Your Side" by Tenth Avenue North, and I was just so struck by the question, "Why are you trying to earn grace?"
My favorite dictionary definition of grace has always been "the divine influence on the heart, and its reflection in the life." It is a definition that found me when I most needed to feel grace in my life. It has helped me recalibrate my thinking over and over again. I love it. I have lived with it, and I have tried very hard to put it into practice in my life. But, I've begun to see that this is where I may have lost the true chord. I worked it, tried to do something with it, and used it...like an instrument I could own. However, in the past few years it has come to mean something more. And this something more, is actually something I don't know if I can wrap up neatly in all the right words and give it to this page. But I will try.
Grace for me is the un-earned moments of divinity that touch our human experience. Grace is found in those instances of mercy when we least feel like we deserve that "beyond forgiveness" which the word "mercy" implies. It is the kindness of a stranger...who is as surprised by his own expression of kindness, as I am by the receiving of it. It is genuine peace while the storm still rages. It is actually feeling the warmth of home, even though you are sleeping in your car. It is dignity in the midst of prejudice and distain. It is feeling affection when hatred screams that you "have a right" to feel otherwise...and yet you love. And this love surprises you. You are loving, not because you are trying to do the right thing, but because God has moved your heart to feel something you could never have even imagined feeling, just moments before.
I am so moved by this concept, this gift, of grace. It takes my breath away. I have seen it in hospice rooms, at the scenes of accidents, on football fields, and in restaurants. I have seen it in grocery stores and parking lots...I saw it after the Columbine shootings in the way that students found a hidden strength within themselves, and they were able to comfort adults and strangers, even though they themselves had just been through hell and back.
For me, grace isn't found in grand strategies, missions, or service projects...although, in the breaking down of pride, selfishness, and hierarchy that often attend a genuine desire to serve, these can be fertile opportunities for grace to appear...grace is found in the conversation between a volunteer and a Katrina victim where both discover something new about compassion and humility. It is found in the moment on a park bench when a lonely senior citizen just needs to tell his life story, and a teen sits and listens. It is found in the child who shares one of her gloves with a teammate when it starts spitting sleet during a soccer game...and they both have one warm hand in a muddy glove and one bare hand for high-fiving with. It is the middle school boy who surprises himself by hugging his mom in front of his friends after school. It is in the generosity of a remarkable singer/songwriter who gives you a song, just because she knows it moves your heart beyond the landscape of longing, and into holy space of unspeakable redemption and peace.
Grace is found in the most unexpected places. It is not earned, but earnest. It is a prayer that wells up from our emptiness and reminds us that there is still an ember of hope somewhere waiting to be fanned into a flame. Grace is an unexpected meeting with a fox on a lone stretch of rocky island coast in the Bearing Sea.
I have known grace in the forgiveness of a friend, the patience of a child, the compassion of a waitress, the welcoming of stranger. It is a teacher who starts a community service and philanthropy revolution without a dime in his budget, but with a dream in his heart, a like-hearted partner by his side, and a passion for giving that sees only humanity's hunger, and his community's need to be generous in order to fulfill its true purpose.
As I think about the start of this holiday season...the red cups are already out at Starucks...I am standing on tiptoes, watching like a child at the window on Christmas eve, for instances of grace this year. Watching with my heart pressed up against the frosty windowpane waiting and watching for those moments of divine surprise when Diety reaches deep within us and fills our very human-ness with something sacred and holy.
I know that it is in these times...times when, as a global community we are facing war, joblessness, poverty, a health care crisis, economic meltdowns, and strife among neighbors...that we are most ripe for the appearance of grace...the uncommon in the common, the sacredness in simplicity. And I don't want to miss one tiny glimmer of this "miracle of grace..." that, as Mary Baker Eddy says, in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, "...is no miracle to Love." Love, God, doesn't find it miraculous that, in Her all-powerful love, and care for us, She surprises us with the gifts of wonder, affection, mercy, peace...grace. Every mother knows the supreme joy of surprising her child with something wonderful...we have learned it from Her.
Grace stands waiting to surprise us in our stillness...with a gift full of spiritual promises, reminders of His presence. Grace appears....it always has.
It appeared in the hearts of three wise me who were sent by a jealous king to find the "prince of peace" so that he could put an end to the prophecy "peace on earth, good will to men" and this grace led them home by another way.
It appeared in the choices made by a young fiancé who actually believed an angel that came to him in a dream and told him that his pregnant girlfriend had not betrayed him, but was carrying the child of God.
It appeared in a girl who ran through the countryside to see if her long barren cousin was "with child" as a confirmation of the miracle within her own womb.
And it will appear in each of us...listen, watch, wait for the touch of grace, as gentle and quiet as snowfall, as un-earned as a mother's love....oh sweet amazing grace. Grace is transformative, it can change the human heart from a place of want and woe, to a sacred space where lions lie down with the lambs, men whisper to foxes, and angels sing....
"My heart is capable of every form:
A pasture for gazelles,
A monastery for monks,
An abode for idols,
And a place where the votaries of the Kaaba come.
In my heart, both the Tablets of the Torah and the Holy Qur'an
are to be found.
My faith and religion is love: wherever it beckons me, I follow."
- Tarjuman Al-Ashwaq
with Him right by our side, holding us...
Kate Robertson, CS
[photo credit: Nathaniel Wilder 2009]