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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Saturday, November 7

Embrace your children until I come, and proclaim mercy to them; because my springs run over, and my grace will not fail.
—Esdras 2:32

It comes in the midst of a conversation when language stops, when all you need to do is look into the eyes of another, or simply squeeze a hand. It comes at the end of a hard day when, in spite of disappointment and loss, you sense what Thomas Merton called “a hidden wholeness” deep at the heart of the world.

It comes in an instant, then is gone, its only sign an aftertaste of sweetness, a remembered song, a scent carried lightly on the wind. Grace comes to us like that, ineffable and rare, calling no attention to itself, asking nothing, changing everything.

Growing up I learned that grace was the “unmerited favor of God,” a definition that worked as well as any, I suppose. Implied in this phrase, however, was the understanding that human beings are a sorry lot, that God may love us, but not without first reminding us that we can never measure up. That, for me, is a dour view of grace.

As theologian Paul Tillich notes in You Are Accepted, “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.” The result? “After such an experience,” Tillich writes, 

we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.

As if by alchemy, grace converts our loss and pain into something they were not, something solid and whole, something we can know in our souls as life. This is not to say that the pain disappears or that good inevitably comes from every loss. It doesn’t. What it does mean, though, is that in spite of these things, we can experience a kind of deep-down healing that we can’t begin to explain. Our sorrow has not simply been neutralized; it has been changed into something new.

Grace, in short, is no grudging absolution on God’s part. It is divine compassion restoring each broken connection, repairing each fragmented heart. More than “unmerited favor,” grace is God’s transforming power, running like water over our parched and thirsty lives.

O God, may we be agents of your grace in the world, offering hope and healing where there is pain, acceptance where there is alienation, wholeness where there is loss.

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.