[Graceful Thoughts is a new addition to my blogging. It comprises short ideas, thoughts, stories, and vignettes that I hope point towards God’s grace at work around us]
Faith is a gift, not an equation. More and more I have come to see faith as a gift. I knew this, and yet I am always coming to know this. The ability to open our eyes to see the work of God in the world around us is a gift. The openness to view ourselves and all of Creation as greater than a random assortment of haphazardly arranged atoms, but as “fearfully and wonderfully made,” suffused with divinity, bearing the very fingerprint of the Creator herself is a gift. We may not understand everything that happens in life. In fact, it is my deeply held belief that religion and spirituality isn’t meant to give us answers. Religion that runs too quickly to answers and solutions can’t possibly be engaging with a God who far surpasses all that we can imagine. Rather, religion and spirituality gives us a framework to wrestle with our questions and a community to wrestle with. For some, the inability to answer all the existential question of life is proof that God is not real. To me, my inability to grasp the vastness of Creation and my place in it is proof that God is real. It reminds that I am not God, that the sun does not rise and fall on me, that there is something greater than myself in this.
Choosing Grace. I woke up in a weird headspace this morning. I found myself being ungrateful and closed – not exactly a great place for a priest to begin her/his day. In the midst of that moment of gloom, I was reminded of a sermon I preached a few weeks ago “Grabbing God’s Grace.” I had to ask myself “where have I laid down grace and what have I picked up instead?” It’s a good reminder, I think, to choose grace over and over again. It seems that everything in our society tries desperately to supplant grace with anxiety, fear, anger, bitterness, smallness, or unforgiveness – a relationship that seems beyond our ability to manage, a job that adds endless stress, a life circumstance that has knocked us off our A-game, the general fear that permeates every facet of society. It seems that we must make grace an intention. Perhaps it’s helpful to pray to one who is “full of grace” to shower some drops of grace upon us. Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our deaths. Amen.
Where have all the prophets gone? I ask myself this question a lot, particularly as I engage a Church culture that seems stuck when it comes to conversations of social justice. The conversations in Church circles often center around institutional maintenance – “will we be here 100 years from now?” The question I often ask in my mind is “who will care if you are here 100 years from now if you don’t have the Gospel words of life on your lips speaking boldly to a dying world?” Okay… that was far more eloquent than the question I really ask, but you get the point. Who cares how beautiful the liturgy is if the community is starving at the gate? Who cares how wonderful the coffee hour is if faithful Christ-followers aren’t bearing out the Good News to revive and refresh dying souls? Who cares? As we engage a shifting religious landscape, the Church has to reclaim the practice and vocation of prophetic preaching and presence that both afflicts the comforted and comforts the afflicted. In the book of Acts communities rejected believers in Christ because they were “turning the world upside down” with the witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Torah practice in Judaism was a counter-cultural engagement of a life lived toward something bigger than the community itself. Jesus Christ himself, a good and faithful (if reforming and radical) Jew, altered the course of nations with a message of love. Where has our voice gone? Who is different because we are here? Who is empowered and strengthened because we passed by? What world has been turned upside down because we bore witness to the Gospel? What are we risking for the sake of love? Where have all the prophets gone?
Word to your Mother… or Father… (Priests) – we aren’t good enough. We can never be good enough, smart enough, outgoing enough, “gifted” enough, strong enough, wise enough… to enter into this vocation to which we have been called by God and God’s Church. We can’t be good enough because in the end it is not about us, but it is about the God who called us, whose grace strengthens us, and whose presence sustains us. Relying in our own strength to make it through the crushing weight of ministry is a recipe for burnout and destruction. We are called to rely on God, and in the process, to remind everyone around us that it is in God alone that we live, move, and have our being. We are only strong through God’s strength wise through God’s wisdom. More than a position of power, priesthood is a posture of readiness for the daily in-breaking of the Reign of God among us. We can prepare the ground by maintaining a life of prayer and penitence, study, service, and genuine relationship. We are called to have our Gospel shoes on to run where God tells us and to respond to ministry where we find it. Like the disciples dispatched 2-by-2, we are called to travel lightly, to rely on the provision of God, bearing the peace of God. That part of our lives and work that always exceeds our human grasp is a reminder that it’s not about us, that we can’t do it alone, that we aren’t good enough. It’s the thorn in our flesh to remind us that at the end of day is a God’s grace alone that is sufficient. There should be a part of our lives that always exceeds our grasp. We literally handle things unseen. And yet we are invited to open our hands, and our hearts, as wide as we can do and to do the best we can with what we have… and leave it to the Lord to multiply it.