I got to text a bit with Pri-Diddy this morning, and I said, “who knew that writing words was so hard?” I was talking about writing content for Advent. Writing words is hard, especially when you’re writing for as broad a theological spectrum as my audience attracts. Everyone from Evangelicals to Social Justice die-hards, the category to which I belong and yet, try not to exclude the other side. In taking the Bible seriously, but not literally, I see a galaxy of images not available to me anywhere else in my life. They are pictures that mold me into a new creation one step at a time, as long as I interpret the words of Jesus into what I think he meant… which, fortunately for me, a lot of people think the same way I do so that I know I’m not coming out of left field with allegories that preach, but do not reflect. It’s the difference between measured, well-conceived responses to scripture based upon thousands of years of exegesis and not molding the Gospel to fit my own ideas of what it should be……… or in other words, just making shit up.
The Bible is what it is.
However, prevenient grace that passes all understanding is not necessarily shown to me through Christ himself, but the people around me who practice it. Harry Emerson Fosdick, former pastor of the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan, once said that every good sermon must either begin in Jerusalem and end in New York, or begin in New York and end in Jerusalem. I see my friends and family the same way. They are walking examples that I can tie back to my understanding of how grace works. For me, they begin every good sermon that ties back to the way Christ’s grace does not follow us, but is ensured by going before. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the safe haven Christ has to offer, but we are so human we attempt it, anyway. They are the people that for me, begin in New York.
I hold up my dad and Argo as examples of this kind of grace. They have both struggled for years over things that I’ve done and things that I have left undone, but there has been nothing that has separated me from them. They offer me grace even when I don’t deserve it. Argo and I may not have a working relationship, but at the same time, grace overflowed when I did something so wrong that I cringe at the memory of it and yet, hate did not win out. Grace did. How you exit a relationship is every bit as important as how you begin one.
I have such a clear picture of how grace works when I think of them. Their grace allows me to see how big mine can get. When I get angry with people, how quickly can I forgive and let grace flow from me? How quickly can I get past the hurt and into the idea that there is nothing they could do that would separate them from my love and care, the way it was shown to me?
In this season of Advent, I am looking at myself and how the mess I’ve made can turn to clay. We’ll talk more about that as I write my Advent sermon for this week, because the Old Testament reading is about tempering fire, the same idea as the beautiful Joan Szymko setting in the link.
One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard my dad say was when my stepsister (mother of Wi-Phi) asked my dad to do her wedding. He talked about wedding rings being tempered by fire just like marriages. I cried at that one, because holding Dana’s hand, I knew it was true.
It is my work to do, this getting rid of an enormous thunderstorm of emotion surrounding being divorced from someone that I thought would be the love of my life, and in a lot of ways, still is. The fight(s) over Argo being the “other woman” were ridiculous, because that passing infatuation was not reality. Love, grace, and mercy were the things I wanted from both relationships, that they would settle and make room for each other in my life. Infatuation passes, while love does not.
I have let go of the people in my life who thought it was crazy to feel this much for someone I’ve never seen, only heard…. and even then, only through her words and never her voice. Words on a page have power, and those who doubt it are the crazy ones. I could see more of Argo through black and white words than I could glean from a hundred cups of coffee. She let me into places within herself that couldn’t be duplicated in any other way. It was sacred through the sacrament of sitting and writing out thoughts, beliefs, and hope for the future. Through words, we had our own tempering fire. I believe I learned more through her anger, in some instances, than I learned from her ever-present well of joy.
When we “clicked off safe” and gutter sniped, they were direct hits on things that needed to change. I learned a new term from the TV show Covert affairs. On the show, when people are given sensitive information, it’s called “reading you in.” It is the perfect analogy for letting Argo into my heart. I read her in, even when words were hard, mmmmmkay………………..
Praying on the spaces.
Waiting for the baby.
Awaiting all that tempering fire has to offer.