I believe in the universality of grace. This does reflect an inclusive theology that says God can bring anyone into divine relationship at any time, regardless of human labels. The fact that many religious people of many religious traditions find this irritating, mushy-headed, or damnable, is probably part of its appeal. However, this belief doesn’t arise out of some grand liberal philosophy. I trust in the universality of grace because it is woven into the larger tapestry of my life, and twisted into the strands of my days.
When I examine the patterns of my existence, I see that in my darkest and most tangled hours I am secured by a lifeline of light. To me it is an expression of God’s limitless grace that I, fumbling and ordinary, have been blessed by new beginnings in so many forms. Yet its great reach is not why I hold the universality of grace as central. It is central because, time and again, acting on this belief, not my feelings of the moment, I receive gifts, unforeseen.
I am a teacher. Every day I pray for grace, for the capacity to see my students fresh. Holding on to all I have learned of who they are, I try to let go of yesterday’s irritations and mistakes. In my science class, where we attempt to make full use of technical wonders, I strive to help my students grow as human beings: to learn to be patient, persistent and curious, to be polite, respectful and understanding.
I particularly remember one student who always wore in-your-face clothes and hide-his-face hair but couldn’t disguise a good head for science. One fall afternoon he couldn’t stop talking or follow directions. Finally, he declared, “This class sucks!” and I sent him to cool his heels in the dean’s office.
I was picking up papers in my empty classroom when he returned for his books. My jaw clenched, but I let grace guide me. I peered through his blonde fence and asked, “What was your day like before science class?”
Out it all came, the pain of parents in conflict, the misunderstanding in the lunchroom, the threat to a friend. All unresolved. After a time, I was able to remind him of his resources, of the problem-solving skills and persistence he demonstrated so frequently in my class.
“It may not be fair, but you have to grow up faster than other kids. I invite you to practice maturity in my class.”
And he did. Though he failed many times, he always gave it his best.
It is there, in the small scenes of life, in the inevitable mistakes and misunderstandings, so often my own, I return to the daily discipline of grace.