A pandemic with no end in sight. Unemployment and closed businesses at rates not seen since the Great Depression. Uncivil civil discourse from so-called leaders. Social isolation and its accompanying depression, anxiety, and addictions. These are indeed dark times. And yet. A phone call from an old friend out of the blue. An unanticipated card or letter. A cherished memory. Uninhibited laughter. Something lost is found. Something new is learned. A stranger helps to pick up dropped groceries. A fellow church member delivers a container of homemade soup. An old wound heals. Forgiveness and reconciliation.
These unexpected shafts of light during times of darkness are referred to theologically as grace. You don’t have to believe in God to believe in grace, for belief in God is a matter of opinion; grace is a matter of experience. It is certainly true that frustrations, irritations, and disappointments happen to us throughout our lives, but just as certainly does grace happen, and those precious, graceful moments are what keep hope alive, give life meaning, and make our days glad.
Recently, I went back and read a sermon on grace delivered long ago from one of my favorite theologians from my seminary days, Paul Tillich. His “You Are Accepted” is just what I needed to hear during these dark days, and I’ll share just a paragraph in case you need to hear it, too:
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace.
May you and I not allow the darkness of these days to blind us to those precious moments of grace that abound.