Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blessings in Disguise

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to teach a class using my new Lenten study, Blessings of the Cross (Cokesbury). It's a lectionary-based Bible study based on the theme of "blessings in disguise."

What is a blessing in disguise? It can be almost anything. However, we use this phrase to describe negative events that turn out to have positive value.

Here are some examples. Through an illness we learn how to depend upon others for help and experience deeper gratitude. After a financial crisis, we discover what really matters to us. Because of a failure we get in touch with humility and a renewed resolve to go forward. After a tragedy such as the death of someone close to us, we learn resilience in the face of a devastating loss.

None of us would call an illness, financial crisis, failure or devastating loss a "blessing." In fact, these would seem to be the opposite of blessings. Yet, if we learn from these negative things and are able to get in touch with our inner resources of faith and perseverance, they can be character and faith building.

Certainly, the cross is a blessing in disguise. This instrument of torture and execution has been transformed into the central symbol of the Christian faith. Through the eyes of faith, the cross represents new life, new hope and even joy. If the cross can be transformed into something positive and life-giving, so can any horrible thing that happens to us in life.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Struck by Grace in the New Year

As we begin another year, the gift I hope for all of us is the gift of grace. The late theologian Paul Tillich understood grace as "God's radical acceptance of us." My favorite Tillich quote on grace comes from his book, 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 we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we are estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us has 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. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that your are accepted!" If that happens to us we experience grace. After that experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.