The other day, while waiting for the oil to be changed in the car, I meandered over to a big box bookstore. And perusing the shelves, I “stumbled” across a couple of books written on the topics of grace and mercy – two areas I am growing ever deeper into…or maybe they are growing deeper into me. So I felt like musing some (more) on Grace.
The older I get, the more I sense that grace is available to everyone and the people who actually try and limit God’s grace are those who are not maturing on the inner journey.
Actually, I want to seek the depths of grace, go deep, swim down as far into grace as I can before my lungs start to burn and my head wants to explode.
I want to know grace, like I want to know a lover or my family history, with that sense of urgency and necessity. I want to know the ins and outs of grace, its whereabouts when it cannot be found. Since most of us who have been touched by grace talk of being found by God’s grace. I often wonder does grace ever get lost? And I am not being funny.
Is grace always, and in all ways, available to us from God? Is simply our blocking it that prevents grace from entering us deeply? Do I, do we, have that much power? Is the free will spoken of by theologians lend itself to justifying that you and I have the power to prevent grace? Are we that powerful?
I truly think so. But it is not about power but love. God loves us so much that he has given us the distinct power to block or receive grace, for grace does not come and go like the ebb and flow of the tides. Grace is like the earth: firm, present, waiting for us to repose into it like ancient stones do the ground.
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The message is clearer to me now at 46, much more so now then when I was 26: I will never rise above being human. In truth, grace allows me to never have to, for if I ever did rise above being human then I would have no need for grace or God for that matter.
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These days I am sensing that all my prayers – for myself and others – are just my deeper longings for grace to pour over me and for those whom I pray over. The “stuff” I pray for – the circumstances, the illnesses, the pain, the jobs, the healing, the homes, the Presence – are at their core just metaphors for the grace I need in my life, the grace I pray for others, the grace we all need.
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I try and capture the essence of grace, but more often than not it is a ‘knowing’ – a sensory experience that something transcendent and lovely has occurred. The best I can do to ‘define’ grace is to say something like grace is love without an agenda, specifically God’s love without agenda.
If I am honest, I have to admit that I have a real hard time with that truth and I allow the shadow side to reject it. All humans do this as well, we recoil at grace so much so that we have initiated and created all sorts of human inventions to mete out God’s grace.
But God has not done so.
We have created constructs of impervious walls, where we decide to whom grace shall be given and to get it you must agree with me, and when we say that we are really saying, you must agree with my politics, look like me, dress like me, interpret the Bible like me, believe the same as I do about God and Jesus…or else I will deem you unworthy of grace. But true grace says to hell with all that; or better stated to Heaven with all that. God gives grace freely and to whomever seeks it whether they speak, think, feel, look or act as I do or as I think they should.
God determines who is given grace, not any person, place, thing or even religion…and that truth disturbs us.
“What do you mean that queers, junkies, punks, hookers, criminals, corporate raiders and liars will receive grace?!?” “How dare God give the keys to the Kingdom to such as these?!?”
But it is precisely those to whom God gives grace.
The worthy are indeed not worthy and the unworthy are worthy for the foundation of grace is that it is a Gift – unearned, undeserved yet freely given in abundance at the very asking.
It is baffling, so much so that we need to create hoops, regalia, theologies, denominations and proclamations deeming who can and cannot have grace. American Christianity in particular – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – has become a pharisaical institution rather than an organic community welcoming all, leaving all judgment and membership requirements to Jesus and not his spokespersons.
Look to Jesus…he was harsh and a fierce critic of the religious leaders in his day, the ones who thought they held the keys to the Kingdom.
He came eating and drinking and hanging out mostly with the riff-raff and blue collar, calloused handed people, and the not-so-run-of-the-mill sinners and he kept urging them to see that the kingdom of God was based primarily on one principle: Grace.
And for people like me, a riff-raff sinner, we know we are hungry for a word called grace – a movement of God that comes deep saying “by My will and Love, you are forgiven, you are free. You are loved by Me and nothing you do or do not do will ever add to that Truth or take away from it.”
That is so disturbing I feel the need to crucify that truth, run from it, prove it wrong. I am Peter for I am a man of unclean lips and actions. I am not worthy of this wondrous reality called grace. But Jesus says nothing to that effect. He wraps us in his arms, holds us close, till we relax, and fall headlong into this love – this unsayable said – that frees us.
And when that happens (and if you are me this moment of grace must happen over and over again), I begin to understand the most liberating reality of all: that grace is not a word, but a Person.