“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.” – Psalm 139:23
The 21st century, in addition to an unending wave of technological and scientific advances, has become a time of intense examination of the words traditionally used by religious people to talk about things divine.
Vigorous debate about the use of “God” or “god” or something else meaning the same thing sweeps along with it the unique religious language permeating what most people know as Christian or religious dialogue.
Frederick Buechner, a remarkably gifted writer whose faith shapes his world views, has written, “After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody’s much interested any more. Not so with grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.”
People, including the non-religious, find in the word grace a stunningly generous view of life and its encounters.
“Grace is something you can never get but only be given,” Buechner said. “There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.”
The profound simplicity of his exposition of the word reveals it magnetism:
“A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?”
“A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith,” he says, “is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do …
“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.
Buechner’s next observation is so easy to understand, and so hard to accept.
“There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.”
Like any other gracious invitation – to a 50th anniversary celebration, to a wedding reception, to a birthday party, to a reunion, to a fond farewell, to a festive football tailgate – nothing gracious is experienced without accepting.
“Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift, too,” Buechner said.
In that he may have pinpointed one of the great failings of 21st century culture, gracious acceptance.