This is where Jean's stubbornness and, perhaps, God's stubborn grace came into play. 'My definition of grace would be multifaceted, but part of it would certainly be God's passion for brokenness. He does, he really does love brokenness, ' Jean told me. 'Grace doesn't obsess with ourselves. It obsesses with people and with brokenness. This is a hard place to live, but God is bigger than hard places to live.
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My nun, which is how I think of her, was the most profound witness for God's love I've ever encountered in this world. She was a magnet for lost souls, a petite fortress of strength and unconditional love. What this sprightly, silly, lovely woman did from the obscurity of a faded convent in Rust Belt Chicago was to fulfill in a passionate, tireless way the supreme commandment of Jesus' gospel every day of her life.
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Why grace? Because some days, it's the only thing we have in common. Because it's the one thing I'm certain is real. Because it's the reason I'm here. Because it's the oxygen of religious life, or so says a musician friend of mine, who tells me, 'Without it, religion will surely suffocate you.' Because so many of us are gasping for air and grasping for God, but fleeing from a kind of religious experience that has little to do with anything sacred or gracious.
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I've heard it said that grace is God reaching God's hands into the world. And the Bible tells us that we are part of the body of Christ, that if we let the Spirit move through us, we can become the hands of Christ on earth. Hands that heal, bless, unite, and love. I'd like to think God's hands are a bit like Grace's man hands-gentle but big, busy, and tough. God's hands are those of a creator-an artist who molded and shaped the universe out of a void, who hewed matter from nothingness.
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Grace to me is a little bit of extra help when you're feeling stuck or doomed or, probably, hopefully, out of good ideas on how to save yourself, and how to salvage the situation or the friendship or the whatever it is, ' Anne Lamott once told me. 'I wish it was accompanied by harp music so you could know that's what was happening, but for me it's that extra pause or that extra breath or that extra minute's patience against all odds.' On that first trip to Ireland, grace-the kick-in-the-pants, clarifying, cosmic-pause-button kind of grace-didn't just have a harp. It had an entire soundtrack...
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Then round about the age of twenty-five, I was tired of being tired of being scared about doing something that, if I deconstruct it honestly, might somehow cost me my salvation and make God love me less. When I understood, in God's grace, that there was nothing-not a thing-I could do to make God love me any less or any more, when I understood that there was nothing wrong or right about who I am in God's eyes, that I'm just loved, I started to live. Boldly. Or at least as boldly as I can muster much of the time.
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Together, on his back porch, his cigarette smoke rising like incense to the heavens, we spoke to the God of grace we both are so grateful to know up close and personal. It may be the most beautiful prayer I've ever heard. Jesus, for some reason you've given us another day, and you've set us in Narnia. There are people who still think it's frozen, and there are people who are longing to be thawed but don't know it. God, I pray that what you've called us to do would be the subversive work of the kingdom, that we would help participate in the melting of Narnia, and that people would come alive and would drink and dance and sing and just celebrate life in ways that are so marvelous that the world would press its face against the glass and see the redeemed celebrate life. Amen.
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Jesus must have had man hands. He was a carpenter, the Bible tells us. I know a few carpenters, and they have great hands, all muscled and worn, with nicks and callused pads from working wood together with hardware and sheer willpower. In my mind, Jesus isn't a slight man with fair hair and eyes who looks as if a strong breeze could knock him down, as he is sometimes depicted in art and film. I see him as sturdy, with a thick frame, powerful legs, and muscular arms. He has a shock of curly black hair and an untrimmed beard, his face tanned and lined from working in the sun. And his hands-hands that pounded nails, sawed lumber, drew in the dirt, and held the children he beckoned to him. Hands that washed his disciples' feet, broke bread for them, and poured their wine. Hands that hauled a heavy cross through the streets of Jerusalem and were later nailed to it. Those were some man hands.
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We're so worried about the legal details of crossing doctrinal t's and dotting sociopolitical i's that we miss the big picture. The love picture. The one thing Jesus was really clear about: LOVE. If we could just get that one thing down, I believe the details would take care of themselves.
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God can and does use anything God chooses to get our attention. Who's to say the hawk wasn't sent as an agent of grace to catch my wandering attention and quiet what Buddhists might call my 'monkey mind, ' which is more often than not swinging wildly from branch to branch on intellectual and emotional trees. On the way back down the hiking trail after my encounter with the hawk in Big Sky, I stopped thinking and started looking and listening. That's when I realized winter was turning into spring before me. Change was happening. Creation, and perhaps the Creator, was speaking. I just needed to be outside to hear the voice.
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Sometimes grace is having the strength to persevere through the storm. Sometimes it's having the guts to rebuild, to take a chance, to follow your nose and your heart rather than your head. Sometimes grace is finding out that your preconceived notions are dead wrong. Sometimes it's being surprised by joy. Sometimes grace is something you can feel even if you can't see it. And sometimes it's a bowl of watermelon gazpacho when you were expecting Taco Bell.
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Everyone experiences grace, even if they don't realize it. It's kind of like Moby's music. You could ask your average sixty-something-year-old retired banker in Connecticut if he's ever heard of Moby and/or his music and the response you'd receive more than likely would be a resounding, 'No-what's a Moby?' But if you say, 'Remember that American Express commercial where Tiger Woods is putting around New York City? Remember the song playing? That was Moby.' 'Oh, then, OK. I guess I have heard Moby, ' our theoretical retired banker in New Canaan might say. 'So ... what exactly is a Moby?' That's like grace. Not that grace is a pretentious vegan techno-rocker, but you get the idea. Grace is everywhere, all around us, all of the time. We only need the ears to hear it and the eyes to see it.
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