Monday, January 10, 2011

The Mystery of Grace

Here is another excerpt from Thomas Merton’s “Thoughts in Solitude” and some of my thoughts on his thoughts. He is writing on the subject of “contemplative souls” finding God in prayer.

“And how do they find Him? By technique? There is no technique for finding Him. They find Him by His will. And His will, bringing them grace within and arranging their lives exteriorly, carries them infallibly to the precise place in which they can find Him. Even they do not know how they got there, or what they are really doing.”

When I was a young believer, the first teaching I gave to my college campus fellowship was on the topic of prayer. Specifically it was how to have one’s prayers answered. I did a quick tour of the relevant New Testament scriptures on answered prayer (assisted mightily by R. A. Torrey’s book “How to Pray”) and presented a foolproof method for having one’s prayers heard and answered by the Almighty.

Nearly forty years later I realized that I was the one proven to be the fool. There is no foolproof technique for answered prayer… or anything else in the spiritual life. In her book Traveling Mercies Anne Lamott writes: "Here are the two best prayers I know: ‘Help me, help me, help me’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ I concur.

As I sat in the oral surgeon’s chair this week, I had time to pray … both before and during the surgery. In fact I had been praying for days leading up that endodontical encounter. My only technique was “Help me, help me, help me.” It was sufficient. Now I pray “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

It is all a matter of grace. I do not know why God found me and called me, especially when so many others do not seem to experience that sense of grace. I do not know why God keeps ahold of me in spite of all my wanderings. I do not know why he continues to preserve me and use me.

My only answer is that there is no answer. There is no answer to all the great “Why” questions we ask of God. The questions that arise in our souls during difficult times - such as pain, evil, injustice, and healing or lack of it - have no theological or philosophical resolution this side of eternity. The only answer I know – and it is more than sufficient for me - is the mystery of God’s grace.

To quote Anne Lamott again: “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

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