I have found the time leading up to Thanksgiving to be one of the most reflective times of the year. It’s the time of year to don the robes of grace that have made us, good, bad or indifferent as human beings this past year and look ahead bravely to the future.
Our life is marked by sorrows and joys, but it is largely behind us, and I find it helpful to look back on where the journey has taken us, me and you.
Those sorrows and joys, those unbidden events are all invitations to accept the grace of God and enter into the next year of your life. The point is to live into the future, lean into the possibilities that are beyond what has past, and in so doing remember that you are alive. While my daughter Fiona and her family still lived in Hood River, OR we hiked up a trail head to a waterfall far into the Columbia Gorge. We literally had to scramble up a dam of giant pines, 20 feet tall, and wade through a freezing stream up to our waist to reach this waterfall. I love water, and so I tore off my jacket and my clothes and down to my shorts stood underneath that mountain water. I was reminded of what Annie Dillard once wrote:
“What does it feel like to be alive?
“Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly backup, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is the greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face. Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling! It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation's short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through time and the beauty and grace of God, reminds you that you are still alive.” (From Tinker at Pilgrims Creek)
I stepped out of that waterfall and Francis handed me my jacket which I donned as a robe of grace, still warm from her body, for I could only stand under that waterfall for a few minutes.
Living in the presence of life is like this. Most often we live our lives at the edge of the waterfall. Occasionally, we feel compelled to step in either because someone has a great need, or a death is impending, or life has dealt us an unexpected loss. Then is when we are most alive. And when the uprush is done, and we step away from that waterfall again, we feel the glow of grace that is our life.
I am told that child birth is much like this. A woman is being pounded by pain so intense she can barely hold on and then comes a child, a baby Jesus of her own, and there is a glow unlike any other. We don’t need child birth to be reminded that there is grace waiting to be worn. We need simply look around this time between the years to see what was, acknowledge it and look ahead.
Perhaps the greatest exercise of grace in our lives is when we find the room to accept those who are different than us, whether they are gay, straight, poor, homeless or politically different. Facing grace is learning to make room for those who not only believe differently than we do but who are radically different than we are.
A surprising statistic has emerged in recent weeks; there is one demographic group which is seeing a rapid increase in mortality. White middle aged men who are not college educated. They are dying at an alarming rate. What are they dying from? Drug and alcohol overdoses, diabetes and heart attacks. But as Steven Williams Mayor of Huntington, WV told NPR, these men are really dying of hopelessness. With so few jobs, men who used to support their families are taken to alcohol and heroin as a way out – and they are dying of overdose and related deaths. In a passionate interview Mayor Williams said, what we need to do is hold on to them, through drug rehabilitation, social services and human contact, we need to hold on and not let go. (adapted Morning Edition, NPR 11/6/15) We need to drape a jacket of love over their shoulders.
This Thanksgiving, who will you wrap up in a robe of grace? Who will you step up to and offer a drape of love and forgivness?
With Grace and Grit, John