A Glimpse of Grace in a Nighttime Snowfall

A gentle snow is falling tonight in my part of the world. It is a shoveler’s delight and a child’s disappointment. Light and fluffy, it is easy shoveling but difficult, if not impossible, to pack into a snowman or a snowball. Before the night is over weather forecasters say we’ll have accumulated four to six inches.
    At night you can only see the falling snow as it passes through the beam of a nearby streetlamp. But, if you stand outside, you can feel it strike and melt upon your face. You can see it cover the lapels of your coat and feel it go down you neck. Inside the house I take off my stocking cap. It is covered with rapidly melting snow.  
    Sitting by my window I see it slowly cover the ground hiding a discarded bottle here, a blowing discarded wrapper there. Slowly the world is transformed. It becomes “clean”, “pure”, blanketed in white. Earlier, while I shoveled my sidewalk, I thought about something the prophet Isaiah said. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (1:18, my emphasis)
    A winter’s night. A gentle snowfall. A glimpse of grace. Amazing, eh?


Glimpse of Grace in a Cemetery

As a minister I am frequently in cemeteries. When officiating at a graveside service I usually arrive a early enough to wander around and read the various markers. Rather than finding this to be depressing, I find the experience to be strangely comforting. For me, it’s a good “reality check.” Here are a few lessons that I take from these walks.
     Lesson One:  From dust you come, unto dust you shall return. (Genesis 3: 19) The story my be apocryphal  but I once read that the late Charles DeGaulle and his wife had a special needs child. As was often the case in the 1950s, the child died at an early age. On the way from the church to the cemetery DeGaulle and his wife sat in silence in the back of the limousine. As they turned into the cemetery lane DeGaulle’s  wife broke the silence and saying that she wished that their little one could have been like everyone else, meaning “normal.” DeGaulle didn’t respond at first. He continued to look out the window, staring at the markers they passed on the way to the final resting place for this precious child of theirs. When the limousine stopped DeGualle, still looking out the window with a far away look in his eyes said, “Well, now she is. Now she is like everyone else.” In the end, we are all alike. We are all special. We are all precious in the sight of God..
    Lesson Two: I find mausoleums depressing. I have been in some beautiful mausoleums over the years but I have also seen many that have outlived their endowment. They leak and crumble and be a shadow of their former self.
    Ultimately, everything that we build crumbles. Jesus got crossways with religious authorities in Jerusalem when he reminded them that the Temple of which they were so proud would one day be nothing more than a pile of ruble. Even without the intervention of the Romans, this would have been true. Nothing we build lasts forever. The grandest cathedrals become naked skeletons and then a pile of stones. The things of this world are not permanent. The sooner we learn this, the better off we will be.
    Lesson Three: Sooner or later we are faint shadows in history. The day will come when no one will remember us.
    About a year ago I walked through an old cemetery adjacent to a small rural congregation I first served. At the highest point of the cemetery there is marker that rises above all of the other markers. It stands there majestically like the Washington Monument rises into the D. C. skyline. The person buried beneath the marker died in the 1830s. I recalled as a young minister still being able to read the name, the date of birth and the date of death as well as a verse or two of Scripture etched on the stone. But when I visited this cemetery this time, all of that was gone. The winds and rain and lichen had taken its toll. Whoever was buried beneath the stone was no longer legible.  
    So it will be for us. I know only a couple of stories of my paternal great grandfather and fewer still of his father. That’s about as far back as my family legacy goes. I can’t even go back three generations with my maternal grandparents. Only a handful of people are remembered a thousand years after they completed this part of life. Why do we think that it will be any different for us?
    The wisdom of my faith reminds me not to worry so much about the future or try to hold on to past memories. Instead, I am called to live, as best as I can, in the present. That is hard for me because I am a bit of a dreamer and a romantic. But the present is really all that I have. It is all that you have, too. Everything else is ethereal, imaginary, not really real.  But the Present, now that is something else. That’s what it is called the Precious Present!
    So, let’s not take ourselves so damn seriously. Lighten up. And don’t worry so much about making memories for others. Trust me, they will have their own memories of us. Love, laugh, cry, feel, enjoy this thing called life. If you can do this, you will not only see but you will be a glimpse of grace.


Glimpse of Grace from a Cracked Chalice

I have a wooden cracked chalice in my office. It was a gift given to my wife and I by a parishioner on Easter morning in 2001. The craftsman who made dated the bottom of the chalice and signed his name.
    It wasn’t cracked when he gave it to us but within a few months, the chalice dried out and cracked. When the master woodworker saw it he was embarrassed. He wanted to make us a replacement but we said no. We rather liked the cracked chalice. One day he snuck into my office, where it had taken up residence and added a bit of humor to the chalice. Over the crack he placed a butterfly bandaid! I liked the added touch and never removed it. The chalice still sits on my shelf. I still like it.
    God likes broken things. More than that, God is connected to the broken in a very special way. In the 147th Psalm we are told that God mends “the brokenhearted.” The old prophet Isaiah announced that the Spirit of the LORD was upon him because God anointed him “to bring good news to the poor” and “to bind up the wounds of brokenhearted.”
    The Almighty uses broken things to reveal the divine glory. Soil is broken so that seed can be planted. Grain cracked before it is made into bread. Grapes are crushed before they are made into wine. And the One whom Christians call “Lord” and “Savior” was broken to take away the sin of the world. Cracked grain. Crushed grapes. Bread and Fruit of the Vine. The Risen Lord. Body and the Blood, broken and shed for you and for me.  A glimpse of grace. Image


Glimpses of Grace from Looking at Clouds

    When I was seven or eight years old I would often lay outside in my back yard on warm summer days with the two little neighbor girls, Nancy and Carol. We would spend what seemed like hours looking at the white puffy clouds floating by overhead. And we would see things; little hunched down rabbits and Jack and the Beanstalks’ giant, floating dragons and sleeping old men with long white beards. We could almost hear them snore if we listened really hard.

     Sometimes we had to point out what we saw to each other because we weren’t always looking in the same place or at the same angle. Often, as we tried to point something out,  the images would be transformed from something kind and gentle into something frightening and horrid. We thought that this was magic of some kind, or maybe God drawing pictures in the sky. Maybe it was the Almighty’s way of speaking to us. None of us had ever heard God speak, of course, but maybe, we thought, He spoke to us in the clouds.   

     As I grew older I knew that “our” clouds were actually “cumulus” clouds and nothing more than collections of water droplets. The name cumulus came from a Latin word that means “heap.” Those particular clouds were a sign of fair weather. I also learned about air currents, and how they moved clouds across the sky. There was nothing magical about the cloud transformations. It was simple science.
    But God, well now, that was and is another matter all together. As I have grown older I have become convinced that God speaks to us, more often then not, through the circumstances and events of our lives. Often we don’t understand what is being said at the time but there are occasional times when we recognize what He is saying.  And, in my childlike moments when all things are possible, I still hold on to the belief that God spoke to me in those clouds of long ago. The Almighty graced me with a glimpse or two.
    One glimpse, one insight, is that a lot in life depends upon our perspective. Often we don’t understand something or someone or see things exactly the same way as someone else does because of our perspectives are different, born out of different circumstances and experiences. This does not mean that one of us has to be right and the other wrong. It does mean, though, that we have a lot to learn from each other.
    The other glimpse is the relentlessness of change. As the clouds changed their shapes because of winds in the atmosphere, we too find that the world has changed due to the winds of time. We constantly change our minds about certain things in light of new information, circumstances, situations and events. I pity the person who is afraid to change their mind about something. Survival is born of constant change. Those who either cannot or will not change are doomed to extinction.


A Glimpse of Grace from a Frozen Water Pipe!

    It has been an usually cold winter this year due to an arctic vortex that has taken a liking to the eastern half of the United States. As a consequence, our high temperatures this winter have frequently hovered in the single digits, Fahrenheit. Wind chills, which are “cold temperatures with a press agent”, have plummeted into double digits below zero, Fahrenheit.
    Early one morning my wife went into the bathroom after a particularly cold night of howling winds and turned on a faucet to the sink. Nothing came out. Not even air. She tried again. Still nothing. She called to me and I tried a different bathroom faucet with no more luck than she had. In all of my years, this had never happened to me before.
    The first thought that crossed my mind was that the problem had to be with our reverse osmosis water system. I vaguely remembered when it was installed I asking the service representative how I would know when it was time to change the filters. He told that that was easy. We would know because the water would simply quite coming out of our faucets. So, I thought to myself, no water=change filters.
    Off to a You Tube tutorial to learn how to change the water filters. I changed the two filters with a minimum amount of mess. Tried the faucets. Still no water! Damn! What next? You may have guessed it, call a plumber.
    I have an very good relationship my local plumber because I learned long ago that there are two ways I can fix something. I can fix it and then call “The Man” to fix it OR, I can simply call “The Man” and simple save myself a lot of aggravation.  I’ve call my “plumber Man” so often that we’re on not only a name basis but a nicknamed basis!
    When he arrived the plumber checked things out, confirmed that I had installed the reverse osmosis filters correctly and diagnosed the problem as a frozen water pipe. “Impossible,” I thought. I’ve never had a frozen water pipe in my entire life! But, as he followed the various water lines it seemed that I indeed did have a frozen water pipe.
    He cut a hole in our drywall about four inches from the ceiling to expose the troubled pipe. It was frozen! You could see the frost around it. As he worked on the problem I asked him how this could have happened as the house was more than sixty years old and there was no evidence of this kind of problem happening before now. Surely over the years, I reasoned, the house had seen winters just as cold as this one AND without the benefit of central heat.
    “Have you had work done down here recently?” he asked. I thought a bit and then remembered that we had a baseboard dewatering system put in last summer. “I suspect,” he concluded, “that the new drywall is more insulated than the old drywall was. The water pipe was sealed off from internal air circulation that would have offset the outside temperature.”
    It all made perfect and maddening sense. Once again, an example of unintended consequences. Fix one problem and create a new one! Isolated and self-contained the water pipe froze—and I might add, broke—for the first time in the life of the house!
    After the plumber left I bought a cold air register vent to cover the hole in my drywall. I wanted to ensure circulation of air and save a little money. As I screwed the vent into place a thought crossed my mind. The water pipe was a parable about us. When we are sealed off from one another, isolated and insulated in our own little worlds with our own little concerns, we can become cold inside. The movement of God’s spirit within us slowly hardens until we find ourselves “frozen.”
    We were made for each other, to be in community, to be part of something greater than ourselves. Happiness, true happiness, is found not in having but in giving ourselves away. And that, my friends, is a glimpse of grace.