But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and the pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
G.K. Chesterton, From an Early Notebook
I love these words. Grace. A friend and I set out to write a song about grace once, a number of years ago, and found ourselves quickly stalled. Not because we didn’t know what to say, but because there was too much to say, and too much of it inexpressible. We didn’t know how to say it. This is a common occurrence in my life and my attempts to translate it from thought to paper (or type, as the case may be, but I still prefer paper), and at least part of the reason for my extended silence from here. There is not too little to say, but too much – thoughts and blessings from Christmas and family, meditations on the idea of newness in a new year, changes and decisions and new opportunities thrown at my feet, and enveloping it all, like the rock in a weary land that it is, is grace. The overwhelming realization of how I need His grace, and the life-giving knowledge that it is always present. Grace greater than all my sin.
The first few days of the new year are often spent in resolution and looking forward, which has its purpose, but I don’t think it is a direction that is meant to be looked in for too long. For of course I can’t know or control it, and as I try to do so, my decisions begin to be motivated by either pride (in thinking I can, by my own action, plan and determine this year’s every step) or fear (in realizing I can’t). Which one of these two responses I lean toward tends very much to be determined by how far into the future seems to be clear at any given time.
There’s a moment in The Hobbit (the book, although the movie keeps this moment intact as well) where Gandalf has left Bilbo and the dwarves and returns just at the moment when they are most in need of his help. After they are rescued and all is set right again for the time being, Thorin asks Gandalf,
“‘Where did you go to, if I may ask?’…
‘To look ahead,’ said he.
‘And what brought you back in the nick of time?’
‘Looking behind,’ said he.”
As almost anything of the year to come is completely unknown to me right now, down to the simplest facts of a location or job, my attempts to look ahead have a tendency to stir up fear and doubt, which then cripples me until I feel frozen, incapable of moving because I am unable to see. But I never see a command in Scripture to make sure I have a full and accurate perception of all the bumps and turns and forks in the road ahead at all times; I see a command in Scripture for faith. Yes, there are times when we are to wait, this is clear in Scripture as well, but waiting or moving, we are always called to trust. And trust is built by looking behind. The Lord’s grace, though often hidden in the moment, in hindsight spills like a floodlight across the entirety of the path I have already traveled. It does not waver or flicker or fade. He has been faithful, even in moments where I have not asked for, sought, or recognized His grace, and He will continue to be. And that knowledge holds no fear, but peace.
In looking forward and looking behind, I am acutely aware of my inability to take any step, make any decision, live any moment, without His grace, and so these words of GK Chesterton resound so closely to my heart – always, but especially now it seems. I want to seek and see and say grace before all things. Before all moments. For it is truly in all things and all moments, and I am lost, in infinite ways, without it.
Not very quantifiable, I suppose, but that above all else is the resolution I both need and want to make to walk forward into this new year.