Stuffed with grace

What part of speech is “religious”?

If you answered “adjective” you’re right, except, of course, when religious is a noun. Now remember: a religious is religious, but you can be religious without being a religious.

Teaching is difficult for countless reasons, but one very time-consuming part of what I teach is that I am constantly clarifying what we mean by words that over centuries have acquired mind-boggling pluralities of meaning. Take Church: I am going to Church, that building on the corner is my Church, she’s part of my Church, I teach Church history. The more ordinary the word, the more meanings it has. Fathers of the Church, desert fathers, our Father, bless me Father for I have sinned, I have to ask my father.

Eucharist is a meal, a sacrifice, a gathering, a thanksgiving. And don’t even get me started on water, the simplest of symbols used in Christian worship. Water gives us life, water kills us, water cleans us, water gets us wet. It’s confusing and comforting – the simplest things in our lives are exploding with meaning.

I was talking to a colleague recently about the time my apartment was burgled, and because we both work in theology I pretty quickly turned the conversation to how a concept of sacramentality helped me deal with the loss of objects. Things are important to us. Things, like people, can be stuffed with grace.  I didn’t have to feel guilty mourning the loss of things because my sacramental faith allows me to recognize their meaning.

That’s what was on my mind recently when, with a wise and thoughtful group of people, the conversation turned to detachment. I get why detachment is attractive, and brilliant people have promoted it as a path to contentment, but I’m going to take a pass.

Give me attachment , a passionate devotion to things, relationships, people, and life. I’ll take the pain when it comes – I’ve known grief, and it has shown me not the foolishness of my attachments but of the blazing heat of my love.  Grace allows the ordinary to be transformed into the extraordinary, and gives us permission to love the thing because we love the grace.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins

This entry was posted in burglary, faith, grace, poetry, sacraments. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Stuffed with grace

  1. “Grace allows the ordinary to be transformed into the extraordinary, and gives us permission to love the thing because we love the grace.”

    One of the things that attracted me to the Catholic Faith was the passion with which it embraces our humanity and life. I was into Buddhism before I converted. The goal was the suppression of passion in order to be unaffected by the vagaries of life. Thus you become the still point of the turning world. Everything moves around you, and you are unaffected.

    Catholicism, on the other hand, embraced the totality of life! You enjoy the immensity of creation because God willed it into existence and it shows forth his glory. When you suffer, you suffer deeply and unite it to the suffering of your God, who chose to suffer for you. Humanity was embraced, celebrated, entered into and lifted up in divinity. That is powerful. That just seemed right! And so I chose to embrace Catholicism and embrace life in it’s fullness.

    Thanks for the reflection!

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