Grace

Grace

On Thanksgiving morning last year all was calm and quiet. No family present or coming. No one from my family, my husband’s family, or our family. This was new, and I felt lonely. But across the miles greeting me that morning was an email from a childhood friend—a blast from the past and a surprise.

Margaret and her four siblings lived on a farm next door to my grandparents whom we visited for two weeks each summer. Two weeks full of fun— feeding baby calves, playing hide-and-seek in the hay barn where we could move bales around to make secret spaces that were hard to find, celebrating her birthday, catching tadpoles.

We grew up. I stayed east of the Mississippi. She married a farmer in Kansas and taught school until her eyesight failed. Our ability to communicate diminished. Our friendship seemed like something from the past. And then last year she got a computer that allowed her to see email with large print. Suddenly we again could be actively in touch, sharing the dailyness of our lives and our families.

So it is her message that arrived first that morning and reached out to my loneliness. Who would have thought, all those years ago, that our lives would be intersecting when we were older than our parents then were? We couldn’t even have imagined being as old as we are now. What a surprise. What a gift. Grace.

Grace is unexpected, unmerited, life-giving goodness.

Queries:

When have you experienced grace?

What helps you notice it when it happens?

Prayer:

Reflect back over the past 24 hours. Notice the moments of grace—moments you especially appreciate, moments that glow as you remember them. Make this a regular practice.

For further reflection:

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God . . .” (See Luke 17: 11-19).

“Bless the Lord, O my soul . . . who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy . . .” (See Psalm 103).

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An Interventionist God?

A loved one is seriously ill, an undocumented mother of children who have been born in the USA is threatened with deportation, color-blind racism means you have to fear for the life of your son in ways that white mothers don’t have to. In the midst of these and similar situations, can we cry out to God, or is that pointless?

A refrain among some who wrestle with religious or spiritual questions is “I don’t believe in an interventionist God.” At best, they say, we can pray for some general wellbeing, or perhaps we can pray for a specific situation so that we will be changed. It seems that to think God intervenes is to say that God healed this person but refused to cure that one, cared about this situation but didn’t care about that one. Who would want to worship such an arbitrary God! But if it is not God’s doing that one person is healed and another is not, that some migrants die in the desert or on sea and others don’t, then how does one explain such things?

I believe that God desires relationship, that our prayers are heard and answered even though we may never understand how or why. I know I am not able to manipulate God, that if the situation about which I have prayed resolves in a way that makes me happy, it is not my doing. I can be grateful and give praise, but I cannot extrapolate from that situation as to what might happen in another situation, mine or someone else’s. What I can do is stay in relationship with God. I can, even must, cry out.

In the Bible story of Job, when he is afflicted with terrible losses and ills, his friends assume he has done wrong and God is punishing him. But Job insists he has done no wrong and demands an audience with God to protest. When God comes, Job is humbled by God’s awesomeness beyond all Job’s understanding. We would like to figure out who God is and how God works, but we can only stand in the mystery.

Queries:

How do you deal with the fact that some children make it through all the terrible challenges to reach the United States and others die? That some things you pray for seem to get no response?

Human action in response to God’s call and leading is important. How do you listen for what is yours to do? When and how are you to be God’s hands and feet?

Prayer:

Take a situation that you care about. Hold it in your mind and heart and know it deeply. In your imagination, lift that situation to the heart of Jesus.

For further reflection:

“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (See Luke 18: 1-8).

“The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.” (See Hannah’s prayer when she who had been barren gave birth to a child, I Samuel 2: 1-10.)

Praise

It had been raining day after day. Still early, we had already had one downpour and lots of showers. When I noticed a slight lightening up of the clouds, I headed out for a walk on the nearby greenway. Immediately my eye was caught by the autumn leaf colors. The yellow, orange, red, and mahogany of sweet gum leaves. The green maple leaves with paint blotches of red. Even the leaves on the ground—yellow, glistening as if sunlight, in comparison with the gold and brown leaves around them. My heart responded—oh my God!

There were birds everywhere. I imagined that they were as happy to be out stretching their wings as I was. They were flying from one branch to another, flitting or hopping among low-lying bushes, twitting and chirping and squeaking. Oh my God! I had to stop and take it in, simply be in the presence.

The night before, we had gone to a potluck at our Quaker meeting. A friend had brought a freshly baked whipped cream pound cake, and blueberry compote to go on top of each slice. Of course I had a piece. The first bite—oh my God!

There are many kinds of experiences that call us to praise our Creator and Sustainer. Maybe it is waking up to the new morning with the one you have loved for a long time. Maybe it is music exquisitely played. Maybe it is being with a group of friends, feeling at one with one another, caring and sharing. Maybe it is that a loved one recovered from a serious illness.

The Psalms express well that praise that arises from the depths of our souls: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name (Psalm 103).” To praise God is not for God’s benefit. It is for us. To praise reminds us of where we fit in things, lifts up humility with no sense of humiliation, and reminds us who we are and Whose we are.

Queries:

Does praise of God come easily to your heart and lips, or are there questions and qualms that block the praise?

Is there value in praising God regularly even if the external circumstances that most likely call it forth are not there?

Prayer:

“Wow!” “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

For further reflection:

“I will hold you above everything that exists—my God, my Holy Protector, awed by your name always, in gladness as well as sorrow” (See Psalm 145 as translated by Hebrew scholar and poet Pamela Greenberg).

“Praise the Creator from the sky, praise the Eternal from the heights, let all the angels sing out in praise!” (See Psalm 148).

For the ultimate in praise, see Psalm 150. For this psalm I prefer the New Revised Standard Version.

Waiting

My friend was in the hospital for several days, unconscious and on a respirator. No one knew what was wrong or what the outcome would be. All we could do was wait. His immediate family members were with him, doing what they could to support him. They waited to see doctors, waited for tests and test results, waited to see if he would be transported to another hospital, waited for him to wake up—waiting, waiting, waiting. It is surprisingly hard work. [Fortunately at this time he is largely recovered.]

In Quaker expectant, waiting worship, those gathered wait for a settling into the quiet and calm, a sense of the Presence, a word of inspiration or guidance received inwardly or spoken by someone gathered, a leading of the Spirit. The waiting involves the passing of time. It is not always comfortable.

In addition to letting time pass, the word “wait” can mean attending, giving attention to. Today we refer to the people who take orders and serve food in a restaurant as the “wait staff.” Their job is to pay attention to the customers, find out what they want, respond to their requests, make sure they are satisfied.

The waiting in Quaker worship is also an attending. It is being in relationship with the divine, being present with, listening inwardly, quieting oneself so as to be able to hear and respond. It involves showing up regardless, so you’re there when something happens. As a child my younger son didn’t talk much about what was going on with him. If he did talk, it happened most often when I tucked him into bed. I tried to tuck him in every night, and then when he wanted to talk, I was there.

Regular attendance at meeting for worship, taking time routinely for prayer, makes a difference. We learn to wait, we develop relationship with the One who loves us, we become practiced at paying attention and listening. So when there is something we really need to hear, or to say, we are there and ready.

Queries:

What is waiting like for you?

To wait—have time pass—when you don’t know what will happen is hard. Some say that waiting—attending—on God makes a difference as the time passes. What has been your experience?

Prayer:

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130: 5-6).

For further reference:

“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. . . .” (See Isaiah 40: 28-31).

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27: 14).