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Lovely Grace

The picture is everywhere.

Pope Francis places his hand on a man’s head and embraces him. The man is horribly disfigured by a terrible disease. One wonders how long it has been since anyone caressed that head – like Pope Francis did. How long has it been since someone reached out to receive this man and pulled him into an embrace of love. How long has it been?

And yet, this is beautiful – so beautiful that I just pinned the image to Pinterest, to the board I call “All Things Lovely” and you can find it there, amid the roses and hydrangeas and lace. It is there, with the pictures of babies and tablescapes and landscapes. It is there.

It is there because nothing is more lovely than love.

This morning, my parish priest gave me a book. It contains excerpts from Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal.

If Flannery O’Connor had a Pinterest board of lovely things, this picture would be pinned there.

And pictures from abortion waiting rooms.

And refugee camps.

And the terrible picture of a child receiving a drink of water from a plastic jug. The mother tips the jug. The child gulps. His body is thinner than any picture you have ever seen from the Holocaust.

Flannery O’Connor would also have a picture from Auschwitz.

There would be one of a dying woman. A picture that shows the aftermath of a hurricane . . . or a tornado . . . or a tsunami.

I didn’t used to like O’Connor’s writing. I didn’t get it. Even when I was a graduate student studying British and American literature – even then I did not understand at all. When professors said this Southern writer’s theme was grace, I wrote it down in my notes and studied it for the test. But I did not understand.

How can grace show up in a story about a prosthetic limb or a murdered family?

How can this be lovely grace?

It is grace because grace shows up in our weakness. It rushes in, and it rises when all else fails.

It makes room for love. It does not whisper an invitation to God’s people. It yells; it screams. Its scream is so compelling that the holy ones must respond. And that is lovely. Like the hand of the Holy Father, caressing the head deformed by disease.

Each day is an opportunity to look on the unlovely and to respond with love.

For nothing is more lovely than this.

It is the lesson of Christ crucified. Even there . . . especially there . . . God is present.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Doug Reed #

    Flannery O’Connor’s views and writings on the subject of grace is challenging and makes us think deeper about what grace is. Sometimes initially people presume grace to mean only helpful and pleasing things that come to us. O’Connor challenges that and asks us to think deeper and analyze this presumption. Challenging stuff. But we are challenged when we are commanded by Jesus to renounce ourselves and take up our cross for Him.

    November 19, 2013

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