I’m starting the day by trying to get my head around this Frederick Buechner quote:
“The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.’”
Actually, his entire definition of grace is worth mulling over on repeat, because I know that I will only ever be able to grasp its meaning in flashes, during unintentional slips in the vigilance of my mind. Logic tells me grace is absurd, and the perspective grown from the sum of my experiences and inner workings tells me that grace is a big fat lie. Glennon Melton’s latest blog post explained that in order to be love to others, we first have to be still and let ourselves feel how beloved we are, and something in me immediately began fighting against her words. Feel myself beloved? Accept that the party wouldn’t have been complete without me? Let the implications of a divine love directed quite personally and deliberately toward me slip past my defenses?
No. I can’t do it. I absolutely cannot.
I can feel myself broken, accept that my role on earth is that of a penitent, and let every implication of humanity’s moral failure permeate my outlook. That I can do, and I’ve been honing my self-shaming skills for three decades now. I’m good at it. I’ve gotten comfortable with my brand of existential despair. Because of this, I’ve never been able to stay in the same room with grace for very long, no matter how hard I’ve tried to kick back and relax in its company. Grace is on par with douchstaches and post-shower selfies for making me uncomfortable.
Buechner closes out his piece like this: “There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can only be yours if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.” His words flash me straight back to Sunday School surer than a time machine. I grew up schooled in the “free gift of salvation,” and I alternately mocked and pitied people too dense to just take the damn gift. Why wouldn’t you take eternal solace, wrapped and ribboned and lying right there on the church doorstep? I had no capacity back in my fundamentalist days for seeing all the strings attached to that gift, nor could I see that some people simply didn’t have the strength to pick up such a thing. Myself included.
I see it now, what a complex process acceptance can be, right on the outermost verge of impossibility. I feel as incapable this morning as I ever have to claim ownership of the love that people like Buechner and Glennon and Jesus say is mine. I feel a thousand shades of undeserving. I feel that life should always be hard for me and tinted with sadness. I feel that love is less true than the circumstances of my past and the struggles of my present. I feel and feel and feel, so much and so strongly.
As deeply as I feel, though, I know that emotional impression does not equal reality. It’s my perspective, yes, and I’ll always have to operate within my own limits, but I can occasionally glimpse the truth beyond myself. And what I know to be true, even when my feelings rally in protest, is that every life is valuable. Every human is a work of art, a treasure, and though others may undervalue that treasure or mistreat it or pawn it off for pennies or forge it into a weapon, that person’s intrinsic worth never lessens.
Which means, necessarily, that I am a treasure too.
This is so hard to accept. The only thing harder to accept is that God is the one treasuring me. God is so often distant and mysterious, more concept than being, and while I’ll take that over wrathful-micromanager-God any day, it’s difficult to feel loved by a concept. Encountering God as a being, as a Her (which I prefer to Him, as it doesn’t carry the same religious baggage for me) takes concentration and time and the staggering effort of pushing my preconceptions and feelings aside. This just seems to reinforce my impression that life is meant to be a Sylvia Plath poem.
Sometimes, however, I do manage to bridge the gap between my theology and my heart, and when that happens, living becomes as easy as drawing breath. Whenever grace finds a new inlet into my perspective, everything unclenches for a while. I can see it all clearly, how you matter and I matter with the same extravagant worth in our world, how we are loved, how we are going to be okay. Gravity starts to lose its grip on my mind.
Inevitably, all the damaged and wary factions regroup to close my borders down again. Denying happiness is a form of self-protection, I suppose. But every moment that I spend in the greater reality of light and love makes it easier for me return in the future (not easy, mind you, just a side-shuffle this way from impossible).
This morning, I find myself wishing for possibly the trillionth time in my short life that spirituality could be a respite for me instead of my daily battleground. All these struggles against my own mind, all the old wounds that need rebandaging, all the feelings that so effectively block out chances at joy… I wish I could just stop, stop trying and stop believing in one fell swoop. Existence would be so much easier.
But it would be easier in the way that dry seabeds are easier than oceans to navigate—simpler, but devoid of life. If I were to cut grace from my soul’s vocabulary, my internal landscape would deaden into a dust-cracked field and the moments of transcendence that I most value would become untrue. I wouldn’t have to fight anymore, but I wouldn’t have anything for which to fight either. I would shrink to nothing. I know this; I’ve been at the knife’s edge of that nothing before.
Which leaves me with no choice other than to consider Buechner’s words as true, to walk them through my mind over and over in hopes that the guards will start to recognize them and lay down their arms more readily.
“Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”
Grace. Her grace. A party invitation worth battling to accept.