To be saved by grace sounds simple enough, grammatically at least. We are born into sin, and redeemed by a sacrificial love which we do not deserve. Baptized at 11, I seemed to have passed the test. Sunday school stuff, really. Let’s go to the all you can eat buffet together, laugh a little, and be done with it.
However, to encounter the “means of grace”, as Thomas Merton has so eloquently identified, is fraught with fear and trembling and a sickness unto death. The means of grace are cellular, the building blocks of a mystery that not merely save, but reconcile us through brokenness of body, mind, and heart. The whole process is rather daunting.
I have encountered the means of grace frequently, and seem to have not been aware enough to appreciate them. I was embarrassed that I needed grace, so that when I received it, I was insulted. I had been a sinner, and gotten slapped for it. I wept at the revelation of my broken self, and was insulted that it was in need of mending. I was aggravated that I could not be saved by my own mind; as my power with words had no authentic connection to what was real. I was given my life, not just at birth, but also as an adult. That is, to say, my life was not chosen by me. My career of teaching English was not of my choice; rather, it was that I happened to be raised speaking English, and not because of any acquired skill teaching it. And when I became a husband and father, you would think that I would exert some responsibility. But I cannot take credit for even that. My son would have died were it not for others, others who were there by grace.
And this short note is to say that the means of grace … the ways of grace … are like air to breathe, like fish to swim through. When I was going through it, gracelessly, I struggled. When I breathe it in, I feel whole. Grace surrounds us and fills us and makes us even possible. If we are free beings at all, it is Grace that makes that even most miniscule of experiences even possible. It is daunting to admit this complete and utter dependence on Grace, given sacrificially and redemptively. In breathing this air of grace, I both intentionally do it, and unintentionally have it done to me.
And in this awareness, I notice the means of grace. I am no longer afraid. I am led beside still waters.