"Coolness in the Heat"
- on a triple-digit day -
I have been quite surprised at the almost-universal response to President Obama’s singing of “Amazing Grace” during his eulogy of the slain minister at the church in South Carolina last Friday. Virtually every newspaper in the country along with national and local TV and radio stations, endless tweets and Facebook posts flooding the social media over one single verse of a hymn sung by a president speaking at a funeral.
I suppose that it was somewhat unusual for the President of the United States to be singing a song during a speech but that hardly accounts for the explosion of response to what President Obama did and said during that eulogy.
In fact, I even heard the well-known comedian/atheist Bill Maher talk about this with his guests on his Friday evening program - Maher even showed a video clip of the President singing “Amazing Grace.” What surprised me was that, he didn’t show this to mock what the president did, but in some strange way Mr. Maher and his guests seemed respectful almost reverential as they discussed what had occurred in that pulpit at the funeral in that church in South Carolina
Personally, I think there is something about the very idea of “grace’ that strikes us at our core, and lies at the heart and soul of what it means to be a human being. You don’t have to be a traditional believer, you don’t have to attend a church or a temple or a mosque, nor do you need to think of yourself as being particularly spiritual, you can even define yourself as being an atheist or an agnostic, and you can still know about and experience the nature and power of “grace” at some deep level in your life.
I suppose there are all sorts of definitions about what “grace” really is. Personally I’m not all that concerned about the definitions - I think that we just know “grace” when we encounter it.
Grace: a “Holy Presence,” a “higher power,” a surprising gift that somehow seems to come out of nowhere, a power that goes beyond our own capacities, helping us to “make it through” the pain and find our way out of the wilderness of life.
The alcoholic who turns to a “higher power” and is lifted from the pits of despair, the mother who has lost a child and then experiences a moment of “grace’ which allows her to somehow carry on in spite of it, believing that “all will be well,” a wife whose husband has been brutally murdered by a racist gunman during a bible study class at church who “amazingly” finds a power within herself to forgive the murderer (and by doing so is freed from the bondage of hatred) - these are all moments of “amazing grace,” experiences at the core of the deepest depths of our human condition.
Living in a desert, I learn a lesson about “grace” every day of my life. You probably won’t find a place anywhere else in the world that is more bone-dry than a desert, especially in these hot summer months of triple-digit afternoon temperatures.
Yet if you scrape about a foot or two beneath the surface of the bone-dry desolate sand, you will likely encounter a stream of water flowing beneath the surface, giving life to the palm trees and sustaining the cacti, allowing them to blossom with the most beautiful flowers imaginable. The desert is a place of “grace” - a dry empty place that is filled with abundance.
Life often feels like a bone-dry wilderness and yet “grace” abides. Underneath the surface of our everyday living, a power abides that is beyond us and yet a power more intimate to us than we are to our own selves - an energy of universal Love that will never let us go:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
we have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought us safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home.
A Sufi poet, an Islamic mystic, by the name of Rumi puts it this way:
You are so weak.
Give up to grace
The ocean takes care of each wave ‘till it gets to shore.
You need more help than you know.