Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Grace: a Gift for 4¢

My Quaker gang is not known for being ritualistic and, certainly, not liturgical.  When it comes to religious tradition and worship, that is correct.  Compared to a Roman Catholic or Orthodox service, a Quaker service would appear amazingly bland.  But if we are talking about ritual in an ordinary, non-religious sense, I suppose Quakers can be as ritualistic as anyone else.  I think I am fairly ritualistic.

Without going into a big definition of ritual, I am simply using it to mean something like routine.  And I certainly am a pretty routine guy.  I normally get up in the morning about the same time.  I have all sorts of rituals that I go through during the course of a day.  One thing is true about rituals of this sort; usually you don’t have to think about them.

For example, in the mornings I get up before anyone else in my house.  I like the alone time.  It is quiet.  I get dressed and grab some money to head up a little hill to the same place every morning where I buy a cup of coffee and the local newspaper.  Nothing like java and sports to get the blood going! 

I am so regular there, it is as if I could be blind, unable to speak, or hear.  I could walk in and probably find my way to the coffee.  Quite often, I am carrying the right amount of money, so I can hand it to the cashier, grab the paper and disappear down the hill.  In fact, if I wake up grumpy, I can do the same thing: up the hill, get coffee, pay, grab paper and disappear.  There need not be eye contact, verbal exchange, nothing.  I don’t advise it, but it could happen.

The only time the ritual alters is Sunday mornings.  The local Sunday paper appears at my house, so I only need to go up the hill for coffee on the Christian Sabbath.  That provokes my ritual slightly because it means the exact change differs from the other six days; I must subtract the paper cost.  For a long time---it seems like years---the price has been the same.  I never even think about it.  Paper and coffee is $1.84; coffee alone is $1.09.

So yesterday on Christian Sabbath, I must have been psychically forewarned.  Quickly, I put $1.10 in my pocket…enough for the coffee with a penny left over.  And then for some reason, I also picked up a nickel.  Off I went to perform my ritual.

As I entered the store, the kind lady greeted me.  She has been there as long as I have been going and I like her.  I know nothing about her except she is named Rosie, that she smokes and drinks.  She probably swears, too, but I have not witnessed that!  Stereotypically in my mind there is no way she could be religious---much to rough and ready for her to be religious.

As I approached the counter with steaming coffee in hand, she was already making the register do its thing.  Suddenly, I looked at the screen as she said, “$1.19; coffee’s gone up a dime.”  At that moment my heart clutched and I felt exposed as if I had no clothes.  I had trekked up the hill with a solid $1.15 in my pocket and now I was caught: coffee in one hand and a measly $1.15 in the other hand.

Immediately, I presumed on her trust in me and her kindness.  “Oh,” I said, “can I bring you 4¢ a bit later?”  She stuck her hand in the little tray on the counter with a bunch of pennies that people leave and pulled out four.  “You’re good to go,” said Rosie as surely as I can imagine God saying to some serious sinner, “Go and sin no more!”  As I pushed my way through the door with coffee in hand, I began to smile.

I don’t usually get a lesson in grace so early in the morning.  And I don’t ever recall having a mentor of grace named Rosie.  It did not cost me a cent.  In fact, the gift of grace was literally worth 4¢.  But symbolically, it was worth millions.  I began to understand the old, old lesson.  Grace is a gift.  Grace is always a gift and is not dependent on the human or moral condition of the giver.  And grace is usually transformative.

Of course, grace is always a gift.  That’s what the word means in Greek and Latin.  One never “earns” grace.  It is always a gift.  And that means I always can grace anyone I want any time I want and for no reason.  It’s simple.  I can even be a sinner, a jerk, etc. and still be graceful---still be a giver of grace.  Thank goodness we don’t have to be morally pure in order to grace someone.  If that were the case, only God could do it.

Finally, grace is almost always transformative.  It usually comes into a situation and makes it better.  Because it is a gift and, therefore, undeserved, when grace happens, things are typically better than they were.  Thank God…and thanks, Rosie!

There must be a zillion ways for us to give and to receive grace.  Sometimes all it takes is 4¢.  Surely, I can manage that!

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