For those of us who follow academic calendars, summer comes to us–at least partially, at least potentially, at least initially–as a period of rest. The fact that I follow an academic calendar and see that I haven’t written a blog post–an activity I find very enjoyable and soul-nurturing–in almost two months probably attests to how desperately I need a little rest in my own life.
I know of few authors who speak to matters like this with any more clarity and grace than the late Brennan Manning, who died a couple of years ago after a significant speaking ministry on college campuses, among other venues. For over 20 years, I directed the chapel ministry at Judson University, and Manning’s Spiritual Enrichment Week addresses in the late 1990’s at Judson (then) College were profound, and alums who were Judson students during that time still talk about how profoundly Manning rearranged their notions of grace and their identity in Christ.
In lieu of my own thoughts on this subject, here is Manning, in classic Manning fashion, providing marvelous reflections on resting in God. This excerpt comes from his well-known The Ragamuffin Gospel:
If a random sample of one thousand American Christians were taken today, the majority would define faith as belief in the existence of God. In earlier times it did not take faith to believe that God existed—almost everyone took that for granted. Rather, faith had to do with one’s relationship to God—whether one trusted in God. The difference between faith as “belief in something that may or may not exist” and faith as “trusting in God” is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged; the second intrinsically brings change.
Such is the faith described by Paul Tillich in his famous work The Shaking of the Foundations:
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, year after year, the longed-for perfection 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, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek 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.
And Grace calls out: you are not just a disillusioned old man who may die soon, a middle-aged woman stuck in a job and desperately wanting to get out, a young person feeling the fire in the belly begin to grow cold. You may be insecure, inadequate, mistaken, or potbellied. Death, panic, depression, and disillusionment may be near you. But you are not just that. You are accepted. Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.
Paul writes: “The Lord said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.’ So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Whatever our failings may be, we need not lower our eyes in the presence of Jesus. Unlike Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, we need not hide all that is ugly and repulsive in us. Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazin’ grace. As we glance up, we are astonished to find the eyes of Jesus open with wonder, deep with understanding, and gentle with compassion.
May that grace–to which we all are, in the words of the hymn writer, “how great a debtor”–wash over you today in profound ways, and may the rest of our God be yours today.
The Lord be with you!