Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 3: Grace

At 9:06 PM tonight, I gave in. I turned on the air conditioning. Normally, when at home, I try to tough out the warm spells with fans but tonight I finally capitulated. My thermostat read 84, which did not sound that bad. But I briefly checked the weather report and learned that it was 83 outside but "feels like 90", technology's way of telling me how high humidity is increasing my discomfort.

People often express puzzlement as to why I resist using air conditioning in such warm weather. I admit that it is an odd quirk of mine. Often, when others ask, I say something about energy conservation or saving on costs. However, in my heart of hearts, I know that is not the real reason why.

In the summer of 1971, I had a live-changing experience - or perhaps two life-changing experiences. First, I volunteered with a youth organization to help a summer park program in inner city Minneapolis. At the age of 15, my eyes were suddenly opened to the injustices of poverty and racism. It was not that I had not heard of such things before. It was now that they had names (Jerome, Denise, Chadwick...I still remember). Some were disabled people, others alcoholics. Some were sweet children who seemed to like me even though I didn't know what to do with them. They lived in houses where the doors and windows were always open during the summer heat. One did not see even a room air conditioner in that neighborhood.

At the end of that summer, my family and I moved to a nice suburb of Columbus, Ohio. For the first time in my life, we lived in a house with central air conditioning. Some of the houses in the neighborhood had their own swimming pools. Although my house in Minneapolis had been nice enough, there we swam in lakes and white picket fences surrounded our modest homes. In the suburbs, it seemed that we were immersed in a atmosphere of affluence in which we were supposed to take pride.

I did not. My heart was still consumed with the people I had met and loved in that hot and dusty inner city neighborhood in Minneapolis. How could I sit in the comfort of this nice air conditioned house while they endured the heat from which they had no escape? And I knew that it wasn't just those few people. My eyes were now opened and I saw that millions around the globe suffered from heat and cold and hunger and violence at levels I could not begin to imagine.

Someone recently said to me, "You get what you deserve." Certainly I have heard that phrase before and I can't say that I've ever really believed it. I suppose there may have been times when I worked really hard at something and thought for a moment that I deserved the positive recognition I received. But no - my mind would always be pulled back to the people in that park in Minneapolis, especially the children... Did they have the same chance as me of winning a state science fair award or obtaining a college scholarship? Did they get what they deserved?

The obvious answer brought me shame. And it still does. They did not deserve the hardship of their lives. And I did not deserve the privileges of mine. We were all born into our families as innocent babies and our environments gave us what they gave us. Our only real choices came much later, after the foundation had already been built, for better or for worse.

Grace... the dictionary tells us that grace is "unmerited divine assistance" (emphasis mine) given to purify us, free us from sin, make us whole and holy. This is quite a foreign notion in a culture that teaches us that we get what we work for (or "deserve") and our worth is measured by what we have attained.

By its very definition, I cannot deserve the Divine assistance which is grace. I cannot earn it or achieve it. I cannot claim it as my own - for the minute I try to, it is no longer divine assistance. It is just me pretending to be god.

How then can I receive this grace then if not by my own effort?

I have little knowledge of theology and cannot tell you what any church, even my own, teaches about this. What I tell you I can only tell you because of grace itself.

Grace is already here. Grace is in my heart. It is in your heart too. It is like an overflowing fountain that has no limit or end. It flows and flows. If you have never seen it or heard it, you can begin now. Be still for a moment. Be open and ready.

At first it may seem as though there is nothing there. Please do not let that frighten you into thinking that you are the exception - that you do not have grace in your heart. It takes time to see it and hear it. To recognize what has been there all along. Sometimes there are things we need to face and move past in order to see and hear it more clearly. Do not let fear stop you. There is no need to be afraid. It is there and will make itself known...

You may ask how I know this. Look back at the image at the beginning of this post. How many times in my life have I walked by shrubs or trees with leaves beginning to open and taken no notice? Many more times than I can count and I am sure the same is true for you. However, as I begin to experience the grace within, I start seeing beauty that surrounds me, that has always surrounded me.

And Beauty is one of God's names...

(You are invited to share your reflections, images or poetry relating to this series, as instructed here.)