Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How does grace work?

I don't know how grace works, I only know that it does. What's so amazing about grace to me is that God always meets my need. I know for a fact that it is not because I deserve it, or because I have done something good. I guess that's the part I don't get.

A year ago today my Dad died. I've been kind of numb all day, but thinking about him. When I close my eyes I see his face. I am grateful beyond words that the last words we exchanged went something like this:

Dad: You need go be with Holly and your kids.
Me: I don't want to leave because I don't know if you'll be here when I get back.
Dad: Go, your family needs you.
Me (kissing his forehead): I love you.
Dad: Son, I love you so much.

It took me all day to be able to conjure up that memory. I was avoiding it. Anyway,  here's the grace part. Yesterday, I went to the book store with a gift certificate I received for Christmas. I found a book that surprised me: Brennan Manning's recently published autobiography, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir. If you're not familiar with Manning, do yourself a favor and read some of his books. I highly recommend two that had a profound impact on me, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out and Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging.

I read almost the whole book yesterday afternoon between the time I arrived home and had to leave to attend to some pastoral duties and lead School of Community. I hated having to put the book down, but I know now there's a reason I didn't read it all. So this evening when I arrived home I picked up the book and started to read it again. I very quickly arrived at Brennan's account of the death of his sort-of-adopted second Mom, Ma Brennan, whose last name he took as his religious name when he entered the Franciscan order shortly after mustering out of the Marine Corps. He met the woman he called Ma Brennan through his best friend, Ray, whom he met in the Marines. Ray died tragically at a young age, but Manning maintained his close connection to Ray's mom and family.

Upon arriving at home in New Orleans after a speaking trip, he learned that Ma Brennan, who lived outside of Chicago, was dying and asking for him. The next morning Brennan was on a plane to Chicago and arrived at the care facility where Ma Brennan lay rapidly expiring. Like many whose lives have been negatively impacted by alcohol, Manning has a hard time believing people like him. So, it is significant that he wrote, "Ma didn't just love me; she liked me enough, I believe, to wait until I arrived to say good-bye." As he walked in the room and arrived at her bedside, Ma pointed to her lips, asking him for a kiss. So, he kissed her. He writes, "She whispered, 'More.' I kissed her a second time, and again she smiled and said, 'More.'" Thinking back on it, he wondered how weird the nun in the room thought this was before writing, "I don't know what all a kiss holds, but that night I hoped ours held grace sufficient for the next step on Ma's journey."

Manning's motto, which he picked up from the saintly Br. Dominique during his time in France and Spain with the Little Brothers of Jesus, is "God loves you unconditionally as you are and not as you should be."

Since my Dad, through his lovely Mother, Isabelle Minnie, loved poetry, I'll post one by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

A year ago today my life was cracked. It's tough to live in a world my Dad no longer inhabits, especially as I hold my little Evan, born last June, who never met his Grandpa. There were only two things that really bothered my Dad as he lay dying-  that he would not make his 50th wedding anniversary, which was last 25 August, and that he would not meet his grandson, who was conceived, but not yet born. Today, God in His amazing grace, shone some light through that crack.


  1. Scott,

    I'm sitting here with tears streaming down my face, wishing that I lived within driving distance of you so I could come give you a hug. Thank you for sharing this beautifully raw post. It only could have been written with grace and through grace.

    It's not easy to lose a father. Last June, we celebrated the 23rd anniversary of my father's death. Each year, my brother and I still replay the moments of that fateful day in our minds - the sights, the smells, the sounds. I don't remember my last conversation with my father, and I seriously doubt that it was anything as deep and meaningful as the one you had your father. Cherish those words, Scott, but more than that, cherish the memories...

    And little Even, even though he may never have the opportunity to meet his grandfather here on earth, he will *know* his grandfather through your love - you are the beautiful link, connecting grandfather to grandson. Through the grace of God, I bet you'll start to see bits of your father in Evan and your other kids as well.

    Hugs to you, and prayers, of course.

  2. Thanks. Lara. I appreciate your kind and gentle friendship very much. I do realize, I realized even then, what a great grace that last exchange with Dad was. I also realize that he wanted me to go and be the man he raised me to be.

    For some reason, I didn't know that about your Dad. I'm sorry. Twenty-three years is a long time. I am still praying for you for next week.!

  3. THinking of you, Scott.

  4. I've arranged for a Mass to be said for your intentions, Scott, by the Marians. I know it doesn't seem like much on paper but once I got a chance to see the candle shrine they maintain for all the intentions people bring to them in prayer. The blaze of the candles is so intense there is no need for heat or light even in the darkness and cold of winter. Through this I hope to gain a blessing of peace for you and those you love through this sadness and pain.


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