I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it. I’ve heard people talk about grace. I’ve probably even talked about it myself every so often. I can even give a theological dictionary definition of the word, and, if pressed, I can probably point to theologians who are known for their work on grace. But never have I seen grace at work in the moment. Or maybe not in quite the same way–a way that left my head spinning; a way that left me speechless.
It was the end of the month. People at the shelter were at their most vulnerable. And I had threads to follow, work to do–a deaf mute woman lost in Albuquerque, a man in a wheel chair trying to find his way home to Amarillo, a regular at the shelter hoping to recover his belongings from the evidence compound. I worked my way through the crowd and through the demands of the day.
A man nudged me. He needed to talk. Privately. There was an urgency to his plea. An urgency I’d not often heard–even in the midst of all that need. We found a place to talk in a hallway behind a closed door and a blaring TV. The hallway wasn’t wide enough for us to face each other, so we sat side by side as he told me his story.
A gun in his back. A command to freeze. A demand for his money. “I was terrified,” he said. “I couldn’t move even if I wanted to.” He stood frozen for twenty or thirty minutes. And then rage–a murderous rage–wiped away his fear.
He told me that all he could think about was getting a gun and killing the man who had taken all he had. He found a friend, borrowed some money, got a gun. For three days he looked for the man who had shaken his foundations and shattered his world.
All this he told me as he sat impassively not even facing me. His expression didn’t change. You could see the barely controlled rage in the grinding of his teeth and in the tensing of the muscles in his arms.
And yet as he talked his expression seemed to change. Subtly softening. On the third day, he gave the gun back to the man who had helped him purchase it. Then he headed for St. Martin’s. He needed a shower and a change of clothes. What he found was a change in attitude as his rage morphed into anger right before my eyes.
As he talked, the edge in his voice soften. His facial muscles began to relax.
You could feel a peace come over him. “I need to go home,” he said as much to himself as to me. It felt like an “Amen” to grace working it’s way through him.
Years ago, I ran across a cartoon in The New Yorker. Two guys leaving church. One says to the minister standing at the door, “You mean I have to believe it to see it?” Last week, I thought a lot about that cartoon and about seeing grace at work. Sometimes you have to see it to believe it!