Friday, May 02, 2008

Confounded by the Mystery of Grace

Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can't begin to compete with God's "weakness." Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That's why we have the saying, "If you're going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God."

I haven’t really delved into many books in a long time, as I do most of my reading on line, but having discovered Kathleen Norris’s books thanks to Jim over at,
Lord, I believe; Help My Unbelief! I am feasting on sheer ecstasy. This book, Amazing Grace; A Vocabulary Of Faith is almost magical with such wonder filling each page, sometimes to the extent I have to close the book and shut my eyes and just reflect, soak it in, but more often than not I feel like I’m being impaled, rendered helpless with mere words.The abiding under current of humility and profound but simple wisdom and insight in each chapter is enthralling.

The unfolding mystery of grace is most confounding, especially to us humans who have been so deeply discolored within with the stark and haughty insignia of smugness.It seems to be an often repeated event in our lives whereby the Lord seems to deliberately offend the mind, in order to reveal our heart condition, not to shame us, but to expose, make known to us our desperate need for the only one who can heal and make whole our devastated hearts.The following is such a picture, as a matter of fact the content of this quote is something my wife and I were discussing just last week, only this brought so much more insight and clarity with what I tried to think out loud.

“We all need to be told that God loves us, and the mystery of the Annunciation reveals an aspect of that love. But it also suggests that our response to this love is critical. A few verses before the angel appears to Mary in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, another annunciation occurs; an angel announces to an old man, Zachariah, that his equally aged wife is to bear a son who will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The couple are to name him John; he is known to us as John the Baptist. Zechariah says to the angel, “How will I know this is so?” which is a radically different response from the one Mary makes. She says, “How can this be?”

I interpret this to mean that while Zechariah is seeking knowledge and information, Mary contents herself with wisdom, with pondering a state of being. God’s response to Zechariah is to strike him dumb during the entire term of his son’s gestation, giving him a pregnancy of his own. He does not speak again until after the child is born, and he has written on a tablet what the angel has said to him: “His name is John.” This confounds his relatives, who had expected that the child would be named after his father. I read Zachariah’s punishment as a grace, in that he could not say anything to further compound his initial arrogance when confronted with mystery.When he speaks again, it is to praise God; he’s had nine months to think it over.

Mary’s “How can this be?” is a simpler response than Zachariah’s, and also more profound. She does not lose her voice but finds it. Like any of the prophets, she asserts herself before God, saying, “Here am I.”There is no arrogance, however, but only holy fear and wonder. Mary proceeds---as we must do in life---making her commitment without knowing much about what it will entail or where it will lead.

I treasure the story because it forces me to ask: When the mystery of God’s love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it? Do I ask of it what it can not answer? Shrugging, do I retreat into facile clich├ęs, the popular but false wisdom of what “we all know”? Or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say something new, a “yes” that will change me forever?

Amazing Grace!


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