Rusty Grace: Prayer in a Divided Age

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We live in an either/or world.  Right vs. Wrong. Left vs. Right. Republican vs. Democrat. Insiders vs. Outsiders. We spend so much time trying to figure out where we stand that we forget to be present where we are.  Once we think we know where we stand, we learn to listen for key words in conversation, and once we hear them, we disengage. Once we disagree, we cease to listen and start defending our position.  There’s nothing wrong in standing up for yourself and what you believe, but there’s a way to do it with grace. Have you ever thought about winning the person instead of the argument?

It seems like we’ve forgotten how to disagree well.  Just because you disagree doesn’t mean that you can’t love one another.  You can completely disagree with everything someone stands for yet still love them.  Just ask the parent of a wayward child, the teacher of the hateful student, the martyr blessing her accusers with her last breath.  It’s not easy, but it’s possible. I just bought a shirt that says, “God loves the people you hate.” I hope I can learn to live that way--with love and grace.

So what’s the key to finding this grace--this unconditional love?  Sometimes the best way forward is to take a step back and regroup. History has seen its share of revivals and reformations, and so has the church.  Maybe it’s time for another. I say we start with PRAYER.

We think of prayer as coming up with the right words to say to God.  But if you go back in time, there are many Christians who saw it less as speaking to God and more as being in God’s presence.  Jesus himself preferred quiet prayer over spoken words (especially public) which he cautioned against, saying not to “heap up empty phrases” (NRSV, Matthew 6:7).  And we only get the Lord’s prayer from him after the disciples begged him for it saying “Teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1).  He even tells us to go to a private room and shut the door (Matt. 6:6). In this type of prayer, the words don’t matter so much.

So how do you pray without words?  Just breathe. It seems all to simple.  But try it. Find a quiet space where you’re all alone, and just empty your mind by focusing on your breathing.  Give it some time. At least 5 minutes. Half an hour is best. But if it’s a super busy, stressful day and you can’t find half an hour...you’d better do a full hour then!  

Breath Prayer

If you can’t stop your thoughts from racing, pick a couple words or phrases and focus one on breathing in and the other on breathing out:  breathe in “PEACE” and breathe out “STRESS.” Or breathe in “LOVE” and breathe out “ANGER.” The important thing is to empty yourself of yourself and make more room for God.

What does this have to do with our divided age?  The idea is this: if you’re more at peace with yourself, then it’s much easier to be at peace with your brothers and sisters.  After all, God doesn’t love you because of the words you say. God loves you for you. That’s called grace. And if you learn to recognize it in your own life (God showing grace to you), then it’s much easier to live it (you showing grace to others).  I went to seminary with a man named Rusty Grace, and I think that’s the way we all are...we’re a little bit rusty when it comes to showing grace.  So spend some time in silent prayer this week, and see if you can knock some rust off the old grace and make it shine.  Because, after all,

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

~ Justin