I finally managed to understand the concept of grace and hope during my second year of Education for Ministry (EFM) at the small St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Marshalltown, Iowa. The year was 1981.
A half-dozen of us parishioners had struggled every Monday evening through the first year of EFM. We’d studied stories from the Old Testament and examined and shared our personal spiritual journeys, laughing and hugging a lot, shedding a few tears together.
Our 20thcentury liberal spirits bumped and bruised against the unyielding law woven throughout Biblical stories written before Christ. We wrestled with them mightily, and what we perceived as needless rigidity causing a pattern of death and destruction to the courageous people of that time and place.
Our second EFM year we moved on to dive into New Testament teachings in depth—Jesus’ messages of unmerited love, of the blessing to the human spirit of his rejuvenating acceptance of all life. We examined how we could interpret those teachings to heal the pain in our own daily living.
I don’t remember the particular reading or occurrence at that time that finally triggered my internalization of the concept of Divine Grace. I do remember, however, that it was during one of those relationship-sharing evenings in the basement of that small parish church when I finally felt the good news of grace down to my bones.
I remember the warm rush of love and relief that poured through me when I at last accepted myself and all the unfocused, sometimes hurtful meanderings of my life, as forgivable in the eyes of God. It was the joy of that amazing grace that gave faith and hope new direction in my life and that of those whose lives touch mine.
Up to that point I had learned, as do we all, to be wary of hope and to trust cautiously. Human experience had taught me that earthly promises often crumble, both those of others and my own. My belated realization of Christ’s message changed the direction of my life forever. It took too many years for me to accept that very amazingly … there is grace, just waiting for us to accept it.
I continue to find that hope each time I walk into our Cathedral Church of St. Paul. Amazing Grace whispers and echoes throughout the stately and aged walls that surround us.