Let go with grace

Friendly Reminder: A weekly reflection from the Quaker Leadership Center

I recently came upon a quote that unsettled me a bit, but I believe it speaks to my condition and to the condition of many Friends leaders. It comes from biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann: “The world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you, by the grace of God.”

We live in a time of rapid cultural and congregational change. The pandemic only exacerbated those changes. Don’t you get tired of living in “unprecedented times”? Most of us find ourselves doing things we didn’t plan on, weren’t trained in, aren’t prepared for. And perhaps the most unsettling part is that there is nothing to indicate we are going “back to normal.” We are living the “new normal” now, aware that the “new new normal” is soon to follow. Is normal even a useful category any longer? It feels like the world “for which [we] have been so carefully prepared” is being taken away from us. It’s hard to know how to be useful and faithful in such a time as this.

But the part that gets me is Brueggeman’s attribution of agency to God’s grace. Is it God who is disrupting and destroying all the solid ground beneath us? Whatever happened to the One who “set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Ps. 40:2)? Whether or not God is the primary agent in all this disruption, we can trust that God will not waste it. God will “make the winds his messengers” (Ps. 104:4), so to speak. And maybe the message is that it was never about silence or “Quaker process” or “effective pastoral ministry” or SPICE or anything else. Those are all tools at our disposal, and God’s disposal. But even if they are all swept away and all our lovely meetinghouses shut down, God can raise up the rocks to cry out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cheering for the “fall of Friends”! I want to revitalize and expand the Society of Friends. I believe we have an important role in the healing and transforming work God is doing in the world. But maybe we need reminded that sometimes change, and the resulting loss and disorientation, is actually happening “by the grace of God.”

Thankfully, the ever-creating Spirit is close by, “hovering over the chaos” (Gen. 1:2). English mystic Julian of Norwich wrote: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God.” A difficult saying. If it’s true it’s not because of divine predestination and control. It’s due to the infinite resourcefulness of God. And God’s amazing grace. The grace that enables us to endure disruption is the same grace that enables us to adapt and innovate.

If we, as leaders losing the world we were prepared for, can trust divine grace, and exhibit “grace under pressure,” to borrow Hemingway’s definition of courage, we might survive. We may even do better than that. Maybe we get to be co-creators with God.

So we sing the old song:

Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

What are being called to let go of?

What new creation is coming out of the chaos?

How do you see the grace of God in the mix?