Part of me wishes there were simple, clearcut answers.

This morning, with my prayers, I read two things I believe are both true. And there is, to say the least, real tension between them.

I read an excerpt from Harry Emerson Fosdick’s The Meaning of Prayer that talks about helpful prayer only being possible because of the development of character. “[Our] iniquities have separated between [us] and [our] God.” I find myself thinking about Hauerwas when he talks about character: how we live in the ordinary course of our lives determines how we will react, without even thinking about it, when defining choices must be made. Most of the time, anyway, when real choices have to be made, we will follow the pattern (character) of our lives without taking time (or having time) to really ponder our choices. We learn to see the world and act in the world in a certain way. We develop a character. That’s how we live our lives. And, according to Fosdick, that’s how we pray.

The choices we make to see and act in the world apart from God blind us, and prevent helpful prayer. Like, he would suggest, a frivolous American in the Rembrandt room of the Amsterdam Gallery wondering “if there is anything worth seeing.” Or like the hiker on an Alpine summit wondering where the view was. He talks about a man telling Mr. Turner, the artist, “I never see any sunsets like yours.” And the artists grim reply, “No sir. Don’t you wish you could?” We have to learn to see, to act, to pray … This requires discipline and character.

This morning I also read with my prayers an excerpt from The Monk of Farne. He says, “… precisely because I am a sinner, I have fled to Thee; since there is nowhere I can flee from Thee save to Thee.” Even my shame at my sinfulness and impurity, he says, cannot separate me from the love of Christ. “I will gladly run to Thee albeit a sinner, albeit unclean, for with Thee there is merciful forgiveness.”

In other words, it’s not about me. It’s about God’s gift of grace extended freely to me, regardless of what I am able to see and what I do. Jesus stretches out his arms to me, wherever my life is, whatever my character.

So there is a tension. Maybe just the ongoing tension between grace and works … The tension that seems, to me, to lie at the heart of the gospel. The mystery at the heart of being in love. Love, if it’s real, changes your whole life. It takes everything you have. And it’s an unearned, undeserved, unexpected gift. Why me?

Part of me wishes there were simple, clearcut answers.

But then, maybe, the richness and fullness of life as I know it would be gone. This tension, this mystery, draws me out and moves me deeper into my relationship with my God, and, indeed, my relationship with all God’s creation: people, creatures and all the rest I have been given in my life.