Dear Peregrina (Monday afternoon, 12 Noon):
I was thinking about this quote this morning from the writing of Anne Lamott: “I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
Besides it being an insightful quote, I was struck by her use of the pronoun “it” to describe divine grace, and found myself wondering about this.
Why? Because, it occurred to me that if we concentrate more on some pleasing result of divine grace in us, then we end up speaking of “it.” But when we concentrate more on the source of grace, we must use “he” or “she,” because divine grace’s source is always a Person, and to establish or deepen our relationship with that Person is the ultimate reason why the grace was given in the first place.
It is not an it that finds us and that “does not leave us where it found us,” but only a person who finds us, a Divine Person in this case, who finds and does not leave us unchanged in the encounter. God is a hunter, and one of His mightiest capacities, and personal delights, is to find us Whom He seeks.
I was reading the following poem by William Stafford to someone yesterday who came for spiritual direction, a poem called “The Day Millicent Found the World,” some lines from which are these:
Then by farther paths
or openings where giant pines had fallen
she explored ever deeper into
the interior, till one day she stood under a great
dome among columns, the heart of the forest, and knew:
Lost. She had achieved a mysterious world
where any direction would yield only surprise.
It got me remembering me how different it feels to be found when one is in fact lost, than to be found when one is trying to stay hidden!
Now, you may find this a terribly odd way to start a letter to you, because what you would expect is that I say hello and how the heck are you doing, and asking whether you need by now a new snow shovel for all of that snow you are having out east!
But last Saturday evening, when I was at the apartment of my nephew and his roommate (both of whom I feel sure you know), I had a text on my phone from your dad saying that you and your boyfriend had decided to let go, and to proceed now along different paths. Or, as is said, and to deploy a very odd expression, “to break up.”
All three of us stopped our evening, purposefully pausing, and each of us said a prayer for you in particular, but also for you and your man. And we did that, and in a heartfelt way that made it clear to me that God dwelt in that prayer, and that it would find its mark in you all the way out there in the east of this nation.
The next day, I also had an email from your mom, telling me of this in your life, and expressing her own tender feelings about not being able to be right there, physically, with and for and because of you.
It is as if your parents really, really love and believe in you. And they most certainly do!
But back to Anne Lamott. What I have thought about since receiving this news about you is how your man has been no “it” in your life, but a person sent into your life and its habits and into your trust. He “found” you and he “did not leave you where he found you,” nor you him. Such is the stuff of growth and adventure – when one is talking about the stuff that really matters.
And yet now, in the goodbye that you both have made, there is just deep feeling, and emptiness that is hard to sort out, and any words, and even ones sent from a geeky old guy out here in Portland, are just not really adequate … just as even the very best topsoil does not have in itself the capacity to express the meaning of a flower … or even two of them.
And so if my words can mean anything, then I want them to be as if a set of hands that hold, and without intruding upon, a mystery of hello and goodbye that you are living right now, and the reality of two persons growing at different speeds, reacting differently to Light.
And if it is true that you feel real loss in your life right now, then in the way of any of us who have lived long enough are able to understand, I say that I am so happy for you. The loss means that you risked the adventure of a real friendship, that you gave yourself to another, were willing to risk even an eventual goodbye. And a person’s willingness to do this, to give oneself to another, and at more than ordinary depth, is also the willingness to be changed, transformed by grace through a person sent into your life, and welcomed, for a time, to be well-fit source of of your life.
“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” – C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.
Your friend in Christ the Pilgrim,