A week ago at our church book group a woman I respect and care for deeply--all 92 years of her, all the days of her rich and well-lived life--confessed that she had always been "foggy about grace." We were reading the Rev. Peter Gomes' book, Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, and Gloria took up the book and read aloud: "God will enable you, he will make it possible for you to fulfill what he desires, for that is what grace is..." It was as if she had just come through a tunnel into the bright sunshine and was exclaiming, "NOW I see it!"
Here's my take on grace, which shares some things with the Rev. Peter Gomes but is shaped by my own experiences and beliefs.
Grace is unbidden and pure gift. It is unseen, sometimes sudden, almost always unexpected. Many of us throw the term around like schoolboys tossing a football to each other on a cold day, sometimes catching it, sometimes dropping it to the ground. Because, in fact, I don't think we really know what grace is. When we meet it face to face we may be abashed, unbelieving, and uncomfortable with such abundance.
Grace is when God decides to meet us where we are, no matter how messy the circumstances. Years ago, in the middle of a frightening miscarriage, I suddenly became aware of God's presence, of her comforting hand on my head. "You will get through this, honey," she seemed to be saying. And I did, strengthened and buoyed by the sense of someone walking with me and loving me.
Grace is God opening a breathing space between us and another person when we are alienated and separate. One day I was arguing with my ten year-old daughter as we walked through a cold parking lot. I grabbed onto my patience, but it did me no good, lost as I was in this conflict. I prayed, "Help, God, help!" And there in the bare, bony arms of a winter bush nearby I saw a multitude of sparrows hopping about, rustling, and peeping. "Look, honey!" I pointed. And as quickly as water slipping over a stone, the argument was gone in our shared delight at the birds. Sudden and unexpected grace.
I think grace is a particular province of the Holy Spirit, something he excels at. Grace can come when we have lost our words and ability to answer a loved one's deep, agonizing questions. Years back, when my mother was dying of lung cancer, I sat beside her on the couch. She laid one hand on my knee and asked, "Annie, do you really think there is life after death?" I inhaled, prayed for guidance, and these words came bubbling up. "Mom, I believe in the promises of Christ. In all other areas of my life when Jesus has promised to be present--to forgive me--to love me--to help me find a way--he has never failed me. So why would I not believe this promise most of all?"
I could never have thought up such an answer on my own; my brain was not capable then, rigid with sorrow and anticipated grief. But the spirit came to me and gave me the very words my mom need to hear. Grace in spite of ourselves.
Perhaps you have your own examples of grace in your life; moments when you thought you couldn't go on, but someone appeared to help you through that dark time or a song came on the radio with the words you needed to give you hope and courage. If you got out a pen and paper to make a list, I bet you'll find grace has touched you again and again. For God does not fail us. Christ walks with us. The Holy Spirit guards us to keep our feet on the path of life. Grace, every bit of it, walking beside us, waiting to be discovered and named.