Jan 30 2013
“Heist the window, Noah,” goes an old spiritual from the Georgia Sea Islands. For centuries, people who had been enslaved have freed their spirits through songs like this one.
Elise Witt found her inspiration in this old spiritual when she wrote “Open the Window,” number 1022 in Singing the Journey, our teal hymnal. Online I find several versions of the original lyrics to “Heist the window, Noah.” Some scold Noah for foolishly building his ark on dry land; others focus on the disaster of the coming flood. All of them emphasize hard times, life-threatening situations. A dove mourns outside the window of the ark, and they share the refrain: Open the window and let the dove fly in!
This seems to me to be one definition of grace.
Grace has lots of everyday meanings: We “say grace” when we give thanks before a meal. Someone who moves in a beautiful, pleasing way is graceful. Favor, goodwill, kindliness, and mercy all count as synonyms for grace.
But it gets stickier for some Unitarian Universalists when we “go theological.” Here, grace gets defined as the “freely given, unmerited favor and love of God,” or as the “influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them” (Random House Unabridged Dictionary). “By the grace of God,” some folks say.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I understand this phrase, the grace of God, as pointing to the truth that we individuals aren’t in control of everything. We need help—maybe every day—from something larger than our solitary self, however we name that Something More (community, Love, God, spirit, universe). At times this help arises from some deep well within us, a well whose existence we have forgotten and whose strength we couldn’t have imagined even moments before.
For me, grace is, first and foremost, this spiritual experience. It’s that “unexpected gift,” tangible or intangible, that comes from a flesh-and-blood friend or stranger. It’s that mysterious in-breaking of wonder and thankfulness that frees our spirits from despair. It’s those times when something goes unexpectedly right just when everything seems to be going wrong.
We just have to be open enough to notice and receive it.
In Heretics’ Faith: A Vocabulary for Religious Liberals, Unitarian Universalist minister Fred Muir writes, “Grace happens, if you’ll reach out and take it. Hence the mystery that makes grace amazing: while on the one hand you can’t do anything to force grace because grace happens, at the same time if you don’t create the opportunity, if you’re not open to it, if you’re not willing to receive it, then there won’t be grace.”
What if grace, like the dove at the window in the song, is just waiting to be let in?
In hard times, can we fling open a window in our minds, hearts, and spirits, and let that dove of peace—that dove of hope and possibility—fly in?
All the essays in this month’s journal and all the worship services in February will grapple with questions like these. Please join us as we discover the ways we can “open the window and let the dove fly in.”
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