Our four and six year old daughters, as nurture would have it, really love to sing. Currently, we’ve been rocking several different versions of Amazing Grace around our house and in the car. Their favorites are the version from the Veggie Tales and the YouTube version of the 7-year-old girl who sings like an American Idol contestant in her Internet music video (which is surprisingly more unsettling than the singing tomato and cucumber). Whatever the version, I love listening to the age-old hymn ring out in their small, clear voices.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Simultaneous to their fascination, the subject of grace has been on my mind more than usual as of late. It’s a favorite topic of mine, one that I’d gladly circle back to again and again.
Growing up as a Lutheran pastor’s kid, the theology of grace was always a key topic. If you talked to my Dad for any length of time, you’d surely understand that the Lutherans invented grace (amongst all other good things, mind you). In church every Sunday, we’d “pass the peace” by shaking hands with our pew neighbors and exchanging the greeting, “Peace be with you,” and then, “and also with you.” While peace is certainly something I’ll endorse passing around, I often dreamt of how it might have been different yet fitting had we passed the grace, gifting each other with, “Grace be with you,” and “also with you.”
I’ve been thinking about the topic of grace lately because I’m reading a lovely book, The Art of Grace by Sarah Kaufman. Kaufman, the dance critic for the Washington Post, taps into another reason grace comes back to me again and again – you can’t be engaged very long in a conversation around dance that doesn’t somehow connect to grace. In the book (which I could pretty much just copy and paste in it’s entirety…) Kaufman approaches the so very many ways to consider the topic of grace. For her chapter on grace and religion, she interviews Catholic Priest Michael K. Holleran, who says:
For many years I have danced my morning prayer; I follow the inner motions of the psalms. I just can’t contain it. When I celebrate mass, it’s also a dance, with all the gestures. There’s a divine choreographer: our whole life can become a dance, sometimes graceful, sometimes more like a modern dance, but it’s all grace, all divine movement.
Someday I would very much like to be friends with Father Holleran. We would dance the psalms together and I would explain to him how very full of grace modern dance indeed is. But, I digress…
I’ve also been thinking about grace because I’ve been observing it in the most tangible way. During the month of September, I had the honor of sitting on several of the capstone project panels for the university where I am an adjunct instructor. In order to receive their counseling master’s degree, the students must defend a paper that includes a full case conceptualization and session transcription of a client from their internship. Other than helping me to brush up on all the ethical codes and confidentiality laws, it was a tremendously moving experience.
In the field of counseling, community mental health is an area of desperate need, desperate burnout and desperately tight budgets. As a result, it’s often where interns and neophyte (aka recently graduated) counselors land. As a part of this panel process, I was invited into the world of these counseling candidates and their clients, almost exclusively in community mental health settings.
I was reminded of so much. I was reminded of everything that drew me to the field of counseling in the first place – the opportunity to be with people who need someone to be with them, to hear their story, to tell them they matter, to reassure them that there is hope. I was reminded of a world of giant effort resulting in miniscule, meaningful steps forward. I was reminded that people everywhere – the people you work with, the people you stand behind in line at the grocery store, the people you laugh with out on a Friday night – may be carrying around life stories far more horrible than the plot of a horror movie. I was reminded that the fact that some people even get out of bed in the morning, carrying around the weight of a history made of nightmares with them every second, is an absolute miracle.
I was reminded that wherever we go, whoever we encounter – there is never such a thing as too much grace.
Out of the late night hours spent assessing and preparing for these panels, and the mornings where I’d dash out to leave the stories behind and go pick up my preschooler and hug her desperately - reiterating how much she is loved - I was reminded again and again of these wise words from Anne Lamott:
I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.
So I’ve been gifted with a healthy dose of the mystery of grace, or rather, reminded that it’s always there, a gift that’s mine for the taking. And it’s relevant not only because of the connection to my faith, and because I have small children and love to dance and work in the realm of counseling – but because I’m an American, and it’s election season. And I need grace just as much as the next person, and let’s be honest – more – during election season.
The common ground right now in this country is virtually non-existent, in the final weeks of what has to be one of, if not the, strangest election cycles we’ve ever seen. And my inclination is to get so mad, so fiery, so irritated – with what politicians and the media say, but mostly - with anyone who doesn’t see the issues the way I do and who isn’t going to vote the way I vote. And so, when my urge is to make a comment I’ll later regret, I reach down deep to find a little pocket of grace. A reminder – that what I see is only a sliver of each person’s story – of where they came from, who they have always been, what brought them to believe in their driving, core beliefs. I want to challenge, and debate, and send articles and facts all day long. And sometimes, truth be told, I do just that. Other times, I take one of those forced “calming breaths” that annoy my children so much and try to see the world for a moment with grace lenses – reminding myself that everyone’s fighting a battle only they understand, and I can choose to assume that everyone I encounter is doing the very best they can (thanks, Brené Brown).
Our youngest has never really liked to sleep. She’s an extrovert and a lover of life, and she’d rather live a desperately tired, emotionally exhausted existence than miss out on one second of people or fun. Bedtime can still be a struggle, but these days she has more tools to help herself as opposed to when she was younger, when we’d spend countless minutes and hours fighting the battle to sleep. When she was almost two, I would rub her back while she tried to fall asleep, always begging for just one more story or one more song. One night, I was singing her Amazing Grace, and after the sworn last time I crept out of the girls’ bedroom. I had just reached the stairs, breathing a deep sigh of relief, when I heard her sad little voice cry out to me, “Grace, Mama! More grace!”
I think of that little call so often, and thank her for being my tiny teacher. And I pray that it might always be the case – that the mystery of grace will continue to meet me where I am and give me more, more of the abundance I need to love those in my midst.
When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.