Stress, Grace, Joy

I’ve been wrestling with two essays and homily for the past week — one of the essays on the current mess in the Anglican Communion (and I fret that it will hurt some whose friendship I cherish), and the homily for a memorial service for a friend. What with life at Seabury and these obligations, I’ve had a lot of restlessness and annoying, persistent headaches at the lower back of my skull.

But this is not about me. It’s about grace and truth.

This morning, I drove out to Aurora, Illinois in the sleet and rain, where I received communion from my friend and former student Charlie De Kay. Then the congregation — sparser than usual, due perhaps to the weather or perhaps to the prospect of a long-winded professor from Seabury come to bother them — gathered in the Guild Room for a talk about The Historical Jesus And Why We Shouldn’t Obsess About Him, and they paid generous attention, asked pertinent questions, indicated their interest in the follow-up meeting two weeks from now. As I was driving home from Aurora, I thought over what I might say at tomorrow night’s memorial service, and I had to pause to recollect in gratitude the inestimable wealth of blessings in my life: enduring friendships with wonderful students; a staggeringly spectacular family; a remarkable network of attention, affection and mutual support online; and more opportunities to write than I can fulfill.

All of this is not something I earned, not something I can claim by desert; I’m too frail, too compromised, too vain, too short-sighted, too limited in my capacities. All these gifts are pure grace. The joy of that gift surged over me this morning, on my way home; the stress and pain were transfigured, still stressful and painful, but linked into a complex whole constituted from the free generosity of greater goodness, greater virtue, greater wisdom than mine. That sort of gift can’t be kept, but only extended.

I saw clearly that I can’t do enough to extend that grace as fully as I ought. To this I testify: some things are right, somethings are true, much that is greatest is costly, and I partake of my innumerable blessings at cost to others. If I could make everything happen my way, I still would get things wrong, let people down, act on self-serving inclination. I am so sorry.

This morning I saw a newborn baby waving to his mother. I believe in that baby’s wave more than in any bright idea, any plan or proposal of mine. Bless you, child; bless my sisters and brothers; bless me.

Ralph said:

After a posting like that, surely the homily is no longer on your “to do” list.

Best regards,

Ralph Hitchens
Poolesville, MD

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