I’ve learned to never know when to expect Grace. It just appears like a mist and cools the heat of all that’s wrong in our lives. It’s a blessed chill touching us with the right kind of goosebumps that help us feel like all is well again.
But I’ve learned that though grace may remain ever mysterious and un-corralled, we can increase the likelihood of its presence when we confront that which is assuredly at odds. Like blame. Like guilt.
Lent is a time for reflection, which can quickly lead to an epidemic of guilt and/or blame. At a time when we are in a mode of deprivation and austerity, normal living, much less extravagances can inspire a lot of negative energy, which is exactly the opposite of the season. Lent is a time of grace. We would do well to remember this.
I couldn’t help but notice that Lent began right about the time The Bride and I hosted our Oscar Party, a celebration of the least austere, most superficial culture of excess I can imagine. We felt no guilt.
Just last Sunday we skipped out on a talk about White Priviledge and Structural Sin to go to a nearby pop-up pastry shop where we dropped $50 on pure decadance and ate them all without a note of blame.
Should we have reconsidered? I never gave it a thought. Because our life is on balance consistent with our moral obligation. We live as consistently as we can with a heart of service to others and a genuine expression of grace to those around us, especially those most in need. We are busy about the business of advancing God’s kingdom in this world in our own miniscule little way. So we don’t have much time for false blame or contrived guilt. We can always do more, but we’d rather focus on doing what we do and doing it well. Thank God grace arrives often enough to cover our shortcomings.
A recent mediation for lent focused on the structure sin of our society said in part, “naming ourselves as both the oppressor and the oppressed.” This is the tension we must hold if grace is to emerge. We need grace because of what we do to others. Others need grace because of what they do to us. That’s why it’s like a mist. It covers freely without merit.
Blame is a form of emotional and verbal violence. Guilt is an internal form of the same thing. Both oppress us and hinder the cooling touch of God’s grace.
Consider one of my favorite stories about the Christ. He wanders off and meets a so-called skanky woman. Instead of reviling her, he enlists her company and asks for her help. She is astonished that whoever he is would denigrate himself by simply associating with her. She thinks he must be unfamiliar with her sordid past. Jesus corrects her, saying he knows well she has had numerous “husbands” and some who weren’t even that. The girl gets around. Yet, the Christ registers no blame. He encourages no guilt. He is the mist of grace in her life.
I find that guilt and blame stir up a great many words. Whether it’s someone chastising another for a less than politically correct comment or someone berating themselves for a lack of commitment to a great social cause, it all swirls in a cloud of talk. We talk about eating this or donating to that or not buying this other or liking/reposting/tweeting/touting something else. We like to talk a good game, even when to do so is to blame someone else or bludgeon ourselves with guilt.
Guilt and blame are fueled by words, yet grace by action. All those causes and ills and concerns are valid and worthy of consideration. But to spread grace is far easier. It simply means expressing love or being kind or smiling or noticing the person next to you. As Gandi said, “be the change you want to be in the world.” That’s grace.
A Lenten wish: Be present. Be kind. Forgive. Love. Give. Then accept that as your best, guilt and blamed be damned. So much can happen when guilt and blame give way.