Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"[Grace is] the force that infuses our lives and keeps letting us off the hook. It is unearned love - the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It's the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there."

So says Anne Lamott, in a book worth anybody's time, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. And as I was reading, this phrase came out of the woodworks and knocked me out of my seat on the bus (metaphorically, of course, otherwise I would be a much less happier mood).

This idea of grace takes hold of us, it seems, when we have nothing left. Well, speaking as a male in the American Dream society, I find it excruciatingly hard to ask for help in any fashion. If I admit to myself that I am completely out - done for, nothing left, sitting in a corner with the white flag waving - then I am admitting that I, basically, suck.

This idea has taken hold of me in the thirty minutes since I read that passage. I am scared of so many things since I graduated from college: what I am doing this year in Lutheran Volunteer Corps; what will I do in the coming year; what seminary to choose; will I even make a good pastor, etc... But the thing that gets me the most is that soft underbelly of all the defenses we put up to make ourselves seem invincible, untouchable, independent. I'm talking about the idea that we are nothing.

I don't know if you've thought about it, but I have. Kinda like life is a huge theatrical production, and I arrive on opening night and realize with horror that I have forgotten to memorize some of my lines. My stomach falls a million feet and I just know that soon the curtain will open, and my failures will be unmasked in front of the entire audience. They will call me a fraud, and I will wonder how I ever fooled them for so long. I will be revealed as a pathetically deluded person, and all of my faults and shortcomings will roll out on a long list of parchment while the judges in the balcony frown and write down horribly damning notes in the margins of their scoring sheets. And me? I just stand there, in the spotlight, fidgeting.

God, I am so incredibly optimstic, aren't I? Yet, this seems refreshingly honest, and I don't know why. The minute I put it out there, then at least I can deal with it head-on. I think this is where grace comes in. All of the sudden, I am not bound to get an 'A' at everything I do (though I still want to), but instead I am free to be who I am, without worrying.

And I tell ya, worrying must be one of the most blatant signs of evil in this world. Worrying about next year, worrying about relationships, worrying about changing the world, worrying about nuclear weapons. I'm not saying that these worries are unfounded. I'm just understanding more and more that the minute I'm OK with being less-than-perfect (i.e. myself), then all of the sudden I am open to take those risks and chances in this life that are there, in my path, on my journey.

Man oh man. To be OK with being crappy, with making mistakes, with fucking up. I still don't even know how that one works out. It seems sometimes that the exit from college is like constantly being bitch-slapped by a huge giant called "Real Life". But grace takes hold of you, and shakes you back into reality, like a mother shaking her child, making her wake up from a bad dream. It, again like Anne Lamott says, "meets you where you are but doesn't leave you where it found you."

Grace is an out-and-out gift, no strings attached (as Dr. Ruge-Jones says) and all we have to do is accept it. It's hard, because we don't feel like we deserve it, but that's the beauty of it. It doesn't matter whether we do or not. All that matters is that we are alive on this earth, and God has chosen us as God's own. Shit. That just blows me away sometimes.

So, back on that stage, horribly alone, with everyone watching you, jeering and laughing, God comes out from backstage in the form of your best friend, your mother, your lover, and turns your face towards theirs, and says, "I don't care about all that. I really don't give a shit. I love you, and that's all that matters."


At 1:28 PM , Anonymous Caitlin said...

My thoughts on the matter: Really, I cope with life's pressures by realizing that I am nothing. I'm insignificant. I'm zero. By starting from the ground up, I have no status to maintain, and anything positive I do that will affect others is an amazing reason for me to exist. I've somehow reconciled that as the point of my life with the idea that I should also take joy in my experiences. I don't think having a positive effect on the world as your reason for existing has to reduce you to less than a person.
Somehow, the idea of grace doesn't affect me as strongly. Grace to me is the bestowal of forgiveness and love in spite of our problematic selves... Well, I won't get into my problems with that concept. Peace out lake trout.

At 11:43 AM , Blogger Jill said...

Hey. School's not the same without you around. Annelise and I hardly know a single other person in our Ruge-Jones Gospel of Mark class. I vaguely recognize 3 or 4 faces, and we know Marcus Begot. Wierd. So... we miss you. How is it going back to the great north?

Oh yeah... I'm a fan of grace.


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