I am trying to think about grace.
This is not easy. For one thing, I work at a church named Grace, so thinking about big-G and small-g grace often ends in irony. Also, my mother-in-law is named Grace.
But grace is ironic--it is something other than what we expect, a second meaning beyond what we see on the surface, though it's not all that hard to see when your heart is open.
This is the place for a story. I could tell the one about finally finding my cell phone last night--lying on the packed-down snow beyond my driveway, out in the street. It had lain there for two and a half hours. How did a snow plow not come along and turn it over into the tall pile of snow by the curb, to be found in early March, frozen and waterlogged?
Avoiding a snow plow is pretty small peanuts for grace. And truly, if I had lost the phone for good I would now be reveling in the grace of an iPhone upgrade, maybe even, with hard bargaining, a slightly reduced cell phone bill. I'd also be enjoying the smug satisfaction of one who has everything on her phone backed up two and three times over.
Nope--grace is more than good fortune. Finding my phone again is a cheap grace. I suffered very little for my carelessness with it, and the suffering I did experience was of the "I'm an idiot, it's just a gadget" variety. In the tizzy that comes with looking for my phone, I often wish I were free of the phone's claims on me. But really, those claims come from the people to whom I can be available via phone, people I feel I ought to be able to keep safe if they can get in touch with me.
But I can't keep people safe, not completely, and that is when God's grace must appear. When friends struggle or old friends die, when my own children keep going through some very tough stuff, these are the places God shows up. When my spirits are low, I listen. Grace—small-g—will show up, and in very human terms.
I probably won't hear it—I have to say this—in stained-glass language about the victory of the cross or the final triumph of the resurrection and life everlasting. Conventional language is, at best, a shortcut expression for something much bigger. Ja, ja, ja, but I want something of my own, God moving in my world, in a breath. In care from a friend when I have been mostly self-absorbed and selfish. News of the dying when I am avoiding thoughts of mortality. Joys of the living when I am consumed with ends of things. A really great verb (grant such to me!) when all I can write is a string of noun phrases. A prayer--not one prayed well with lots of words, but one where God's voice silences the din of petitions and complaints.