Ashes and Grace

The acoustics stink in here.  Phasing issues, especially if you are sitting near the high, exposed-brick walls.  The problem is that the room is too parallel, like a big shoebox.  

When I came in they asked me to listen and adjust the audio, inexplicably unaware that they never sounded better.

Who are they, these people singing, smiling, and smearing?  Friends?  Are they like me?

By the way, I’m scared, more or less, all the time.  Is that the truth?  I guess it is.  

Let's be honest, it definitely is.

Maybe everyone is.  Even the ones who make it all look so easy.  The ones the Cosmo quiz calls extroverts.  Maybe they’re scared that they always have to outperform or people won’t like them.  That they have to TOP something or someone, maybe even themselves.

I don’t know, because I’m not like them.  They hold their heads up, poke their chests out, shake hands hard, and they CHAT.   They like to.  They know what to say.

I don’t.  I curl up, wrap my arms around myself and cover my underbelly…my vulnerable guts.  Sometimes I sharpen my elbows because being prickly helps with that.

People can act nice, but people’s nice can be a set of burglar tools to pick your locks.  It’s happened before.

It’s Ash Wednesday.  We’re all ashes and dust.  That’s what the Bible says.  Maybe that means we all have sharpened elbows…or sharpenedsomething…and maybe these people really are like me.  Maybe everyone’s locks have been picked before, or even forced open with a crowbar.

God’s here.  

I can feel Grace.  It’s why the band sounds like an angel choir even though the audio stinks.  Grace means I can hear with my soul instead of just my ears.  I wonder if everyone else knows it tonight.  Sees it, hears it, feels it.  

I wonder if the employees of Coffee Cat know that there is even Grace in their coffee on this night.  In the grounds, in the beans, in the acoustics, in our mitochondria and gut flora, in the ashes, in traffic outside, in parallel walls and school gyms, in our hearts and in our theories, in my elbows…even in my ELBOWS, honed sharp on resentments and past disappointments.

With these people, these Embrace Church people, I am learning to feel that Grace.  Learning to look for ways instead of just words.  I’m learning that God speaks to us, and I’m learning to listen for His voice.  I’m learning that God’s Grace is here all the time, even when I can’t feel it because I’ve enveloped myself in my flesh wall, my cocoon.

Someone told me once that God wants us to have friends.  The dictionary says that a friend is someone that I enjoy being with, someone I trust.  Can I trust these people who have helped me learn about God?  

Are they like me?  Do they know what it’s like to want something—LIFE, says the mystery, and LIFE more abundantly—but be terrified to receive it?  

Do they know what it feels like to hate themselves?  No, I mean it.  Hate themselves and then be afraid to admit it, so do they then build mechanisms, sharpen elbows, cover guts, shake hands hard, look for distractions, all to try to ignore the place in their heart where they KNOW they aren’t good enough?

Maybe they do.

I want God to show me that He holds the ashes of me valuable.  That I am loved and worthy of being loved, because HE says so.  I don’t want to think about it or read a verse about it or sing a song about it or invent a theological construct about it.

I want to KNOW it.  I really want to know it.

Do they want that too?  Can we help each other?  Can we encourage each other to let go of some of the armor?  Can I stop sharpening my elbows to show someone else that it’s possible, through God’s Grace?  Can I be a friend, encourage someone else?

In school they said that energy is the cause and effect of itself.  But I think they meant God.

Is God’s Grace like that too?  Can it nudge us call us pull us see us know us push us hold us break us catch us want us love us find us use us give us tell us ask us shape us hear us, then fold back on itself and flow through us, collectively, individually, expanding and growing like a mighty river to the sea?

On a night like tonight, I think maybe it can.

Photo provided by Keightley Garnett.