During my morning prayers, I am also reading Reluctant Pilgrim. In the chapter I read this morning, Okoro writes about a man she was in love with, and unless her words betray her, I would say still deeply loves, or at the very least remembers fondly. She writes about his addiction in these words: “God’s light shines especially bright through the multiple and endless fragmented slices that exist in broken people. And the more rays of light, the more people are touched. But no one expects such light to come from a broken image. I learned to understand the radical beauty of God through Michael’s shards. I learned to acknowledge the beauty of God through my own brokenness” (77). When I read this beautiful description of brokenness, I realized why I have always loved that churches use stained glass to tell the biblical narrative.
Maybe the early stained glass artists were onto more than simply reappropriating the technique of mosaic with a new technology. The multicolored shards of glass work together to not only reflect and refract light, but they tell one cohesive story of beauty and grace. Each piece of art, carefully rendered with fragmented pieces of glass held together by that thin lead casing, each piece of art tells a beautiful story and needs each small fragment to tell it. I should look toward the stained glass to tell me about more than a biblical narrative; I should ask the stained glass to tell my own narrative, and to remind me that we all work together to form the body Christ, as weird and multicolored as it can be.
A few pages later Okoro writes: “I want to find a church that teaches me something about carrying each other’s burdens, about living into the gift of God’s grace so we are free to be the persons and community God calls us to be. […] Maybe I love the image of U2’s ‘Grace’ because it reminds me that God our mother eternally supports and nourishes us and, most importantly, does not punish us for being the needy creatures God created us to be. […] I don’t imagine that I extended grace to Michael. That would be presumptuous. Rather we both got caught up in the delicate but strong grip of God’s grace, that sense of divine love extending outside of God’s self and demanding humility from whoever falls into its arms” (80). I love this idea that we don’t extend grace to each other, and I never thought about how presumptuous it is to assume that we know anything about grace at all.
The idea that we just get caught up together in God’s grace is a profound one for me. I have always thought about giving grace to people, but not about mutually receiving grace, thought that’s exactly what happens. In fact, once I read this passage, I thought about Jesus saying that it’s better to give than receive. Why? Because when we give, we are simultaneously receiving. We can never only give grace, because what enables us to give grace is God’s giving of grace to us. We are inextricably caught up with others in giving and receiving grace.
In addition, maybe a lesson I am supposed to learn this Lent is one of humility. In the argument with my friend, humility was a learning point. In chapel yesterday, denial is a form of humility. Here, today, I learn that grace requires, no demands, our humility. How beautiful! If simply keep asking, God, what do you want with me? I have no doubt that I will eventually learn what it is God desires. I have no doubt that I am supposed to be a shard in the stained glass body of Christ.
Click the arrow below to listen to Nichole Nordeman’s cover of “Grace” by U2. You’ll also have to click the same arrow on the MySpace Music Player.
Love the stained glass imagery!
“The idea that we just get caught up together in God’s grace is a profound one for me” too. And explains…no…points to healing within my extended family in the past year that I can only call Grace. Because I can’t explain it, only feel that what’s happened is a gift of Grace that I can only appreciate and say thanks for. Because none of us impacted had the power, singly, to extend grace to each other and have it fix all that’s been wrong for so long. Something shifted, and we’re all in a slightly different place now, and sometimes I hold my breath waiting for things to shift back to the way things were, but inside I feel different too–we all do. “caught up together in God’s grace”
The stained glass imagery is perfect too. I’ve worked before with images of threads in a tapestry–I’d had a dream some years ago of the ugliest, most painful, most pointless threads being essential to the whole piece, each thread having a place, a purpose no matter how snarled or broken or loose. But your stained glass symbol takes my basic insight and explodes it somehow for me, mainly because it better takes into account the job of light through all those shards and brokenness. Moves beyond individual identity and purpose to community, and the body of Christ specifically. It’s all very fluid for me, too, because light changes in intensity and direction and so changes what we see through and in and because of the stained glass. There’s a seeming permanence to stained glass that is also always changing…
Thanks for your comments. I have always been enthralled with stained glass and icons. When my mom used to take us to Greek Church when I was little, I was always drawn to the pictures (I’m a visual artist and visual learner, though I do love words) and how they told a very bold story of forgiveness and redemption. I also used to try to read the Greek writing and guess which saints/apostles were in the pictures, since the Greeks name everyone in the pictures. When I went to seminary and learned how to read the words, the pictures became so much more meaningful. It was and is a beautiful experience.
Thanks for the story of your family, too. I love to hear about how grace works in real ways.
I remember being drawn to the stained glass windows in the small Methodist church we attended when I was a child. There was nothing particularly ornate about them, nor were they the sort used to tell stories in pictures, rather colored glass with one image (the Bible, the Methodist/cross flame, etc.) in the center. But I would count the different colored pieces in the window at the front of the church, and watch the changing light, especially when the sermon was particularly bland. Something captivating about stained glass, even the less artful stuff. I remember the first time I stepped foot in a Catholic church, how much more interesting and captivating the windows were with their strange and beautiful pictures.