When I’m keenly and viscerally aware of brokenness, as I am these days, I remember a powerful and restoring experience I had several years ago at Mariandale a Catholic retreat center nestled against the Hudson River, about an hour north of NYC. I had gone there exhausted—sick and tired of being sick and tired. There were about twenty retreatants, mostly nuns and priests who eyed this Baptist interloper a bit warily but welcomed me warmly.
We gathered each morning and afternoon for worship, the center of which were long seasons of silent and contemplative prayer. For the first few days, the silence was agonizing. Though I welcomed the external quiet, jangling, clanging and endless noise filled my inner world.
It was like garbage trucks roared into my heart and dumped the mess and waste of my life in front of me for me to see and smell again: mistakes I had made, the sins I had committed, the ways other people had wounded me, and the ways I had hurt other people.
For three days, like Jonah in the belly of the whale, I was surrounded by decaying debris. It was painful to face, but I knew it was important. I asked for grace to stay with it.
On the fourth morning, as I sifted through my trash, I heard a voice say: “It’s all under the mercy” (The Spirit sometimes uses words we’ve stocked in our memories; in this case, she used that lovely phrase from Sheldon Vauauken!)
It was what I so desperately needed to hear that I wondered if I had somehow created the voice myself.
I heard it again: “It’s all under the mercy.”
A few minutes later, I heard: “Rest in the mercy.”
The two phrases alternated in my consciousness: It’s all under the mercy; rest in the mercy. It’s all under the mercy; rest in the mercy.
Quiet tears flowed down my cheeks. I was utterly and gratefully undone. A long and still ongoing re-making began.
Later that morning, as a part of her presentation to our group, our retreat leader played Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” with its powerful refrain:
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
I don’t, and won’t, have a perfect offering to give—neither do, nor will, you. We have our selves and only ourselves, in all of our brokenness and beauty, pain and joy, wounds and wonder.
It’s all under the mercy. Rest in the mercy.
Thank you for sharing this. We all strive so hard to be perfect even though it is impossible. We shall never be so. God’s Grace and mercy are what we need. Thanks be to God He offers it through Christ. We must be reminded lest we wallow in self pity.
Thank you, Frieda. It really is about God’s unconditional love and undeserved grace, isn’t it? Best, Guy
I’m grateful, Guy, that your bore witness to your need for merciful rest, underneath it. Being a Baptist is no excuse for being spiritually and emotionally broken. Some of us are drawn to the Baptist way “faith and work” while ignoring our need for rest. May your tribe of “interlopers” continue to grow!
Thank you, Buddy. I’ve learned so much from those who’ve allowed me to interlope among them. And, I’m grateful for encouragement from friends like you. Best, Guy
Dr. Sayles you are exceptionally talented. I have followed you for years and my wife and I would visit your previous church when we would vacation to Asheville. At 66, I realize that we never have a complete understanding of our faith but the reward is in the journey and seeking the truth. It is through our setbacks, unfair experiences and pain that we are the recipient of spiritual clarity.
I yearn for more spiritual leaders like you who influence our minds and hearts as opposed to those in the “granite counter top” Christian culture who remain in a bubble of comfort with no risks and embrace the survivor of the fittest mentality. We are our brothers’ keeper.
Mitch, thank you so much for your generous affirmation. It means a great deal to me. You’re so right that we never have a complete understanding; we “see through a glass darkly.” More and more, I know how much I don’t know. Grace and peace, Guy
Beautiful as always my friend.