Grace at the Margins – Christmas Day Reflections

Suffering of any kind can be a compelling opportunity to see and experience the face of Jesus in places where otherwise we might be blind.  We find and are shown grace at the margins of life.”

N.C. (the earthy monk)

“In Jesus, we discover that God is just sloppy with his amazing grace and completely beyond common sense when it comes to his love.”

Chaplain Mike (Internet Monk)

On this Christmas Day, I am reminded of Christmas Day 2010.  I had worked a 16 hour day at Maya Angelou House, a 90-day residential addiction treatment program for homeless women who have hit rock bottom in every way.  Being with the women of Maya Angelou House on that Christmas Day reminded me of the two truths quoted above.

Maya Angelou House is run by a group I worked previously with almost 20 years ago as an AIDS social worker and an addictions counselor – the place is called SOME, Inc.  SOME stands for So Others Might Eat and was started by Fr. Horace McKenna 40 years ago as a soup kitchen in the basement of St. Aloysius Church barely a mile from the Capitol building in Washington, DC.  Since then it has grown into a variety of programs, from feeding the hungry and homeless, to addictions treatment, to medical and dental and counseling services to the poor and uninsured, as well as various housing programs for the formerly homeless (women with children, men, families, the elderly, and those in recovery).

SOME also cares for the severely mentally ill and has a job training/adult learning academy to offer opportunities for the marginalized to regain empowerment.  I love what SOME does for they do Gospel work – the works of mercy, by showing mercy and walking with the poor and dispossessed, in solidarity.  I see the face of Christ in what they do and in whom they serve.  But I digress…

Christmas Day 2010 was for me a day for finding grace at the margins.  Being with and listening to the stories of these courageous women who had lost, had taken away or in some cases – under the influence – had resigned certain parts of themselves to feed their addictions was painful and inspiring.  But there they all were, on that Christmas Day, speaking of God’s goodness and grace.

It was and still is a deeply humbling thing to listen to people (who in the eyes of the world) have lost everything, speak so gratefully of the goodness and grace of God.  It definitely put me in a different perspective and it also put me in my place…it still does thinking back.

I am grateful for the women of Maya Angelou House, as I am grateful for my addiction (and my recovery) as I am shown again and again God’s grace at the margins of life.  I am shown time and again just how “irresponsible” God is with his grace and love, pouring it out lavishly on the just and the unjust, the addicted and the petulant.

God truly is “sloppy” with his amazing grace, and it is in Jesus that I discover this truth.  On days like Christmas, when the new and unknown is almost unbearable, it truly does not make any sense how abundant God is with his love.  For even as I find myself still filled with doubt and confusion (fearing a dream may once again be deferred), I am showered in the goodness and love of God.

The challenge is to “let go” of the assumption that in times of confusion, despair, sadness or lostness that we are being punished by God for some action (see Luke 13:1 – 5 to dispel that myth).

No, it is quite the opposite: God is fully Present at the margins lavishing grace upon those, who in their own eyes or the eyes of the world, do not ‘deserve’ it; God is in the confusion and the lostness, being fully Present to us, wrapping his love around us like a warm blanket on a cold night.

So this Christmas, I challenge you to fight any possible preconceived notions you have about God, and let his grace pour over you, lavishly, unexpectedly, and with reckless abandon.  I challenge all of us to surrender to the ‘sloppiness’ of God’s love shown to us in Jesus.

So, let’s all go ‘play’ in the frivolous love God has for us, basking in the grace that is found at the margins and in the manger, knowing that in Jesus we are totally accepted and completely acceptable.

Amazing.

Grace.

 

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