Tonight I had the opportunity along with 5 college students from my church to serve and eat a meal at Breakthrough Urban Ministries Women’s shelter on the Westside of Chicago. An old factory, turned warehouse, turned machine shop, then abandoned, and now remodeled, provides housing for 30 women and staff under Breakthrough’s name. It is a simple place, but in the unfolding production of grace this building radiates upon the stage. I wish to articulate everything that happened tonight, but to do so would take an entire book, so I must consolidate.
As is ritual, one veteran volunteer led the women in worship with her acoustic guitar while the meal was being prepared. As the women trickled into the dinning hall connected directly to the large open kitchen the smell of meatloaf and dinner rolls filled the air. The room echoed badly as the music begun, but despite that and the harsh hanging florescent lights there was an intense awareness of “home,” security, hope, and belonging among the people in the room.
I sat at a table with a woman named Patricia and shared her song book as we sang worship songs put to the simple rhythm of a guitar. She and I chatted briefly between songs as others in the room shouted song requests, then we would continue with the group in song. I noticed that as I sang louder, so would Patricia, and so I sang very loudly on one song “Hosanna.” I didn’t look at the songbook very much during that song because I knew it by memory, so I sang, loudly, along with Patricia who from the way she closely followed the words in the song book, I determined hadn’t heard the song many times before.
When the song ended, Patricia pointed with her finger to the first two lines of the bridge that read, “Heal my heart and make it clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen.” Through what seemed to be tears, she said “That’s what He did for me”
Patricia ran her finger along the words, back and forth as if stroking a precious piece of jewelry. I was taken aback by her emotion. I had just sung those words out of the cold repository of my memory without second thought while Patricia had been intensely reminded of grace and forgiveness. The next song started, but Patricia kept talking about who she’d been, who she’d hurt and disappointed, the drugs she’d used, the education she’d thrown away. She told me about an experience where God clearly “opened up her eyes to the things unseen.” With a cringe and a whisper she said, “I saw everything, I saw who I was, I saw who God was…” She paused, I was riveted by the passion with which she talked about God. Her awareness of grace brought tears to my eyes as I thought, “that’s what He did for me too.”
Last night I sang a song as I’d done many times before, but through the simplicity of a strummed guitar and through the delicate loving way Patricia talked about the words, my understanding of grace soared.
There are times when a simple single thing, when experienced in a delicate and simple way, will change your understanding of the greater whole.
Grace is a grand production that is redeeming humanity. It’s breadth and scale is magnificent, but to appreciate grace there are many elements of which we need to remain aware.
In understanding grace, there are stories we need to hear, and songs we need to sing.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
A couple of days ago I came upon a beautiful blog post written by Jordan Dowell, who volunteered with his church, Willow Creek, at Breakthrough's women's center. Jordan gave me permission to copy a portion of his post below. You can read it in it's entirety here.