“One Christmas- I must have been ten years old – I spent some time walking the creaky wooden floors of Woolworth’s five-and-dime searching for a gift for my mother. I happened upon a little notepad, the kind people used to keep beside telephones. It was multicolored, pastels of pink and green and blue. I’d never seen anything like it. I thought it was gorgeous, surely something that would thrill my mother. Christmas morning came, and we were all there-my parents and grandparents, my brother and sister and me. As my mother began opening my gift, I held my breath in anticipation. She tore the wrapping paper away and just stared at the notepad. “What in God’s name am I gonna do with this? What a waste of money!” After what felt like an eternity where all eyes in the room were on me, my mother tossed me the pad, and the Mannings moved on to other gifts. I felt like I’d purchased the Hope Diamond for her, but it wasn’t enough. I just didn’t understand. I was crushed.”
“”What is the telltale sign of a trusting heart?”
I cannot remember when I wrote it or what might have prompted the question. Yet it is there, evidence of a ragamuffin’s lifelong wondering. Here is my answer, the answer that is, as Thomas Merton wrote, “the ‘Yes’ which brings Christ into the world.”
A trusting heart is forgiven and, in turn, forgives.
I know that’s true because of an experience I had on a November day in 2003. My mother had been dead and gone for close to ten years. As I was praying about other things, her face flashed across the window of my mind. It was not a worn face like that of an old mother or grandmother, but a child’s face. I saw my mother as a little six-year-old girl kneeling on the windowsill of the orphanage in Montreal. Her nose was pressed against the glass; she was begging God to send her a mommy and daddy who would whisk her away and love her without condition. As I looked, I believe I finally saw my mother; she was a ragamuffin too. And all my resentment and anger fell away.
The little girl turned and walked toward me. As she drew closer, the years flew by and she stood before me and aged woman. She said, “You know, I messed up a lot when you were a kid, But you turned out okay.” Then my mother did something she’d never done before in her life, never once. She kissed me on the lips and on both cheeks. At that moment I knew that the hurt between my mother and me was real and did matter, but that it was okay. The trusting heart gives a second chance; it is forgiven and, in turn, forgives. I looked at my mother and said, “I forgive you.” She smiled and said, “I guess sometimes you do get what you ask for.””
“My life is a witness to vulgar grace – a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request – “Please, remember me” – and assures him, “You bet!” A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mine. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.
John, the disciple Jesus loved, ended his first letter with this line: “Children, be on your guard against false gods.” In other words, steer clear of any god you can comprehend. Abba’s love cannot be comprehended. I’ll say it again: Abba’s love cannot be comprehended.”