I got a question from a dear reader who wanted to know more about this word grace. She asked, “Curious about your word GRACE. Is this the biblical term or your own definition of how to show grace in difficult times? It would really help (and perhaps you already have) to define to the readers, me being one, how best describes Grace…” I skimmed down to read the words “biblical” and “God fearing” and felt my shoulders tense up and pressure build in my chest.
I feared this gal might be one of those Christians with the clipboard, showing up at my door to tell me the jig is up and the other Christians have decided I’m not welcome in their club anymore. I’m someone who finds my home in Christ, in the God of love, in the mysterious Spirit of Grace. It’s been this way since I was young, growing up in Africa and having experiences I could only explain by a wild and loving Being, present with me. I’ve also been seriously screwed over by people who claimed to be God’s followers, and have been told more than once I was not welcome in the club anymore. It’s like being picked last for dodgeball during recess, but then told there isn’t a spot for you after all.. except a hundred thousand times more painful.
In my case of being kicked out of the club, it was because of my past and my terrible sin, and a group of people who feared I would corrupt them. Yep, we sinners just walk around looking for people to corrupt! They had all met, discussed me and my brokenness (which I’d shared in confidence in the first place because I was told “this is a safe place”), and had unanimously decided I would not be welcomed back. It brings to mind the bumper sticker, “Jesus, save me from your followers!” I thought maybe someone like this had found me again, found my letters, and had decided to police grace and my use of it. Then I read the rest of her question, “I am pretty sure I am getting it, but if the word Grace is only for the biblical minded I wonder if that leaves out many who may not be God fearing in the biblical sense. Please continue your writing.”
I breathed a huge sigh of relief.. no clipboard, no witch hunt. She was like me, perhaps carrying some bricks in her bag from those concepts, longing to hear that this GRACE was still offered to her. As I thought about an answer, though, I kept coming up to a brick wall because of the nature of her question. I’ve wrestled with my own beliefs enough to know I can never presume they would fit into someone else’s experience of the world, never answer the big questions for anyone but myself..and I still have more questions than answers. I kept wanting to qualify my own view of grace, where that came from in my story and history, my journey with God as a being of love and endless grace, my spiritual traumas and fears, my faith and doubt. Then I was reminded this past week of a Buddhist concept where, in the Zen tradition, if you are asking a poor question – a question of “Is it this or is it that?” – you can answer with the word “mu.” Mu simply means “Un-ask the question, because there’s a better question you can ask.”
Our questions about grace, faith, God, Spirit, Mystery, love, belonging are often the wrong questions. So much of what we ask when we try to explore these mysteries should be answered with, “mu.” We want to fit everything into a “this or that”, “us or them” understanding of the world but these questions so often bring about alienation and fear that looks nothing like grace, love, or God. The Mystery of faith demands that there are no boxes, no walls or dividing lines when it comes to grace, just a love offered freely to anyone in need of it. So when I use the word, I use it as someone who has grown up in a home where God was love and love was offered free for the taking each day, no matter what. But I also use it as someone who has been bruised by people claiming to give that love out. I use it as someone who has decided “enough is enough” when it comes to fearing “the other”, pushing others out, or withholding grace.
So my answer is this – mu. I believe there’s a better question we can ask, and I think it looks something like, “Is this grace for me? No matter who I am, what I’ve done, or where I find my footing on the ground of faith or doubt, of believe or unbelief?” To that, my whole heart leaps, throws out the candy and says, “Yes, dear heart! This grace was made for you! and for me! and for all those others who fear they might get kicked out of the club or not invited to play. There’s no policing this grace, no earning it All we bring is our need, our hunger for it. This grace is for all of us! So let’s chase it and throw it out in droves, in hopes some of the damage done – in here and out there – might be healed just a little bit today.. by a love so wild, no one can take it away from us.”
Keep sending your letters, keep asking tough questions, dear heart. Even though I’ll most likely not have the answers, I experience a lot of grace and growth in living into them with you.