Thursday, June 5, 2008

"Have You Taken the Time to Find out What Grace is for?"

[I]t is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

-Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 25:23.

I’ve had some great (and not so great) experiences while running. Apart from the apparitions that appear from time to time during moments of fatigue, the most interesting involve other people. Take this morning for instance: I was running down the 20th Street sidewalk towards Monroe Boulevard in Ogden. A man in a red jacket with the hood pulled over his head was walking the opposite way. Apart from the momentary fear that he was going to pull a gun out of his pocket and take out some repressed frustrations on this crazy runner who reminded him of his abusive father (my imagination may be a little overactive at times, although in Ogden you never really know…), I honestly thought he was going to ask for money—although I don’t know why anyone would think a runner might have loose change in his shorts—or for the time.

As we approached one another, he pulled off his hood and I got ready to sprint down a side street just in case I saw the glint of cold metal. Instead, he fired something else at me: trying to make eye contact, he asked, “Have you necessarily taken the time to find out what grace is for?” Before I could really process what he’d said, the socially acceptable time allowed between question and answer had passed, it started to rain, and I’d turned down Monroe on my return trip home.

I mention the rain because it, along with this man’s random question, reminded me of God’s promise, given through Malachi to those who pay a full tithe: “I will […] open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (3:10). This association then reminded me of a moment before Sidney, our first, was born. Jess, who was three or four months pregnant at the time, was in the bathroom getting ready for work when she yelled that she was bleeding. After checking on her and while she was on the phone with her OB, I closed the bedroom door and hit my knees. I begged that everything would be okay, that we’d have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. And then I begged some more. And some more. In one of those moments of inspiration that spring from desperate prayer, I opened my Bible and it fell open to Malachi’s promise, which I read again as if for the first time:

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.

And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts (King James Bible Mal. 3:10-12; emphasis mine).

Reading “fruits of your ground” as the fruits of our marriage and our bodies, I felt assured that Sidney would be fine, that the pregnancy would go full-term, that we’d have a strong and healthy little girl. In my mind, that’s what grace is for: my wife’s health and the lives of my three little girls.

Drawing from this moment, I decided to list the things I think grace is for. So here it is, whittled into a top five for reading convenience:

1. Grace is for the birds (and all other animals, except maybe mosquitoes). I have to believe this because during one summer when I was twelve or so, I adopted a sparrow chick that had fallen from the nest and broken its leg. I tried to nurse it back to health, but it just got worse: it stopped eating and broke the other leg in its box while I was gone. So we took it to Grandpa, who mercifully ended its misery in the swift blow of his hammer, sending it to the God who values and has made eternal provisions for all of His creatures, even the sparrows (and maybe even the mosquitoes, although I doubt that one, and the starlings that keep making their nest in the rafters of our house).

2. Grace is for the body, as illustrated above and in yesterday’s post.

3. Grace is for communication, both written and verbal. As a writer and speaker, I also have to believe this. In one sense, grace applies to the origin of some things I’ve written, such as the poems that seem to spring from my head (as Athena from Zeus) fully formed (“Fruit,” posted today, was one of those poems). Or the essays, such as my master’s thesis, that I prayed myself through. I’m convinced that only through mental exertion, by bending my thoughts over my chosen topic, and through these prayers for assistance was I able to hold my text together like I did.

In another sense, grace applies to communication between individuals. Since most of what we mean is conveyed in the gaps between words, the only way to really understand one another is through small acts of social grace and mercy, as when one person extends themselves into another’s experience, seeking to understand the context in which the other person lives and thus bridging the linguistic gap with empathy.

4. Grace is for relationships (a continuation of number three). A bond can only be created between two people when the parties in the relationship extend themselves in this way, reaching across the gap between bodies and minds to hold themselves together. As we do this, I’m convinced that God steps in and makes up for any further deficiencies, strengthening the bonds with his presence and power.

Grace also ties individuals and generations together as man and woman kneel at the altar in God’s house and enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

5. Grace is for salvation. As Nephi wrote centuries ago, “it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do” (Book of Mormon 2 Ne. 25:23). God’s grace not only allows for our resurrection, an unconditional gift given to all of his creations; it also provides the way for us to become eternally like Him, an exalted Being—but only after we’ve extended our best efforts to serve Him and bend ourselves to His will. Only then will He open the way for our return Home.

Well, man in the red jacket: there’s my answer to your question. I hope it’s what you were looking for. Next time, however, might I suggest that you try asking me while I’m not running down the street?