Retroactive Grace

One of the evidences that spirituality is an “everyday” thing is how frequently spiritual or religious references show up in our culture.

I happened to see the 2006 movie Freedomland recently. The link will take you to a Wikipedia page that explains the plot. In brief, a young boy is missing, then found dead. Accusations are made against innocent people until the tragic truth is discovered. The lead characters are Julianne Moore as the boy’s mother and Samuel L. Jackson as the police detective. When the detective visits the boy’s mother in prison, he reflects upon his own personal history and tells her: “God’s grace is sorta like retroactive.”

What he means by this is that God’s grace has touched his life, giving him a chance to make up for past failures. That he can recognize this in his own life suggests that the same grace is available to her.

Even for people (like all of us) who have made mistakes, done things for which they have difficulty forgiving themselves, entrapped themselves in spirals of guilt and regret, God’s grace is available. It’s present; it’s future; it’s even retroactive. And if we think that our mistakes reveal our weaknesses, all the better.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes of asking God to rid him of a particular torment, a thorn in his flesh, but in response to his pleading, God said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (NIV). The Amplified text spells it out more clearly: “My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:9]

Our only role when it comes to God’s grace is to accept it.

           

Who’s an Author?

Rob Eagar posted a “Monday Morning Tip” this morning making the claim that there is no such thing as an author. Sort of a provocative way to start a workweek for us writers! Here is an encapsulating line from his post: “It’s not the act of writing that makes someone an author. It’s the act of someone else buying what you wrote.” Okay, that’s pretty provocative too.

It appears to be a reality of publishing today – regardless of the route by which your writing reaches print – that writers have to do their own marketing. This is viewed as daunting to most of us, but for some of us, it’s a world of promise. It hearkens back to the words of wisdom most of us heard repeatedly in our youth: “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” I don’t mean that major publishing houses can’t do marketing well; just that these days they tend to devote their marketing funds to already established writers.

Maintaining regular spiritual practices can help with the marketing process in more ways than one. First, of course, staying deeply in tune with your spirituality fosters a state of calm for approaching the task. Second, spending regular time in silence helps to clarify in your mind avenues that will be helpful to you and those unlikely to be. Third, and probably most important, frequent prayer keeps you connected with the knowledge that you do not have to go it alone.

So, move forward in marketing what you have written, and become an author – by Rob Eagar’s definition or anyone else’s.

           

Off the Cuff

In a short article in the September 18 issue of The Christian Century, I learned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was not from a written, rehearsed text but was instead extemporaneous. The singer Mahalia Jackson stood near as Dr. King rose to speak at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and she said to him: “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” Hearing her, King folded up his prepared speech, put it away, and instead spoke from his heart.

The result was one of the most famous, most quoted, most remembered, most cherished speeches of all time. Chances are, if he had ignored the prompting of his heart and read the text printed on the paper, the speech might have been a good one, but with nowhere near the impact and reach of the one he gave.

So, can we say that “I Have a Dream” was impromptu? Not if we consider King’s background in faith and religious studies. The same Divinity Who said to Moses: “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” [Exodus 4:12] and to the 12 disciples : “At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” [Matthew 10:19-20] could certainly have whispered the same message to Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963, on the heels of the exhortation from Mahalia Jackson.

           

Bible-reading as Mystery

I might as well go ahead and admit that Bible-reading is a mystery to me. Last week I commented that I never try to defend the Bible, nor press it upon people, but I still return to it every morning and usually find reason for peace. The peace is part of the mystery, as is my urge to spend a little time daily with Scripture. Some days I hurry through, some days it doesn’t seem to amount to much, some days my perspective feels forever changed.

Several years ago I attended a presentation by Bishop John Shelby Spong, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church well known in Christian circles for writing books that seem to be deeply critical of the Church and the Bible – books like Why Christianity Must Change or Die. The main thing I recall from his talk is his deep reverence for the Bible, despite his controversial public position on it. He, too, continued to find solace in returning to the pages of Scripture.

More currently, there is The Christian Century, which features in each issue a column entitled “Living by the Word.” In the 16 October 2013 edition, Scottish writer Sara Maitland, after discussing lessons to be learned from the scoundrel Jacob, gives this frame of reference for Bible-reading:  “So when we go to the Bible we have to go alert and cunning about the fact that it is not a single text. It may very well all be inspired, but it is inspired to a variety of purposes and therefore comes in a variety of genres and calls for a variety of reading skills.”

I like her suggestion that readers be “alert and cunning” in approaching the Bible. I don’t expect that such an attitude will expunge the mystery; I wouldn’t be surprised if it deepens it.

           

Gladness

Maybe it’s the rain. When it’s relentlessly wet and stormy, after a while I start to think about gladness – how to get some, how to keep it. I’m one of those people who need gladness.

So I was especially pleased this morning to notice something new in the Bible that I never saw before. It’s in John 17, with Jesus addressing God in prayer: “And now I am coming to You; I say these things while I am still in the world, so that My joy may be made full and complete and perfect in them [that they may experience My delight fulfilled in them, that My enjoyment may be perfected in their own souls, that they may have My gladness within them, filling their hearts]. John 17:13 Amp.

There’s so much in the Bible that is intolerable to friends of mine, even the deeply spiritual folks for whom things of this nature are important. I never try to defend the Bible, nor press it upon people, but I still return to it every morning and usually find reason for peace. Maybe that’s because after so many years, I know where to look and where not to! All I know is that I feel better about today, even with its rain, when I consider that there is a sacred intention that I have divine gladness filling my heart.