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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Grace, Not Gravel-Filled Shoes

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” –Matthew 11:30

Acclaimed fiction writer Flannery O’Connor published her first novel, Wise Blood, in 1952.  A fantastic work of jarring irony and explicitly Christian themes, Wise Blood tells the story of Hazel Motes and his tragically misguided search for truth.  At once the cynic as well as the visionary, Haze rejects Christ, shields his eyes from the brilliance of God’s grace, and charts his own disturbing course with religious fervor.  All the same, the young man remains conscious that he is the object of relentless pursuit and thus spends the entire story struggling—as O’Connor later commented—to get away from “the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind.”  Haze is haunted by the embodiment of Truth even as he attempts to forge his own.

Revised to become a chapter in Wise Blood, “The Peeler” appeared as a short story in December 1949.  O’Connor introduces the reader to Haze, the conflicted protagonist dogged by secret, consuming guilt.  He denies having this guilt yet obsessively seeks to expunge it.  In repeated encounters, Haze hears the name of Jesus—sometimes reverently, other times irreverently.  The name seems to draw him with mysterious unseen magnetic force.  He finds this repulsive.  Still, he cannot escape the name.

Haze recalls a childhood memory, and the short story abruptly ends with this recollection.  As a boy, he weasels his way into a peep show.  Later that day, Haze grows burdened with guilt.  Mulling over forbidden images, he can’t help but connect them with death.  His mother catches him skulking around and, glimpsing some trace of wrongdoing in her son, asks accusingly, “What you seen?”  Haze remains silent.  Inexplicably (though perhaps intuitively), his mother says, “Jesus died to redeem you.”

“I never ast him,” Haze mutters tersely in response.

The next day, O’Connor writes, the boy Haze makes an attempt at penance.  He fills his shoes with gravel, puts them on, and walks a mile to a creek.  “That should satisfy Him,” he thinks.  But nothing observable happens.  He walks back home, taking off his shoes after a half-mile … apparently realizing that he has no idea how far he would have to walk in those rock-filled shoes to redeem himself … unwilling to believe that Grace has already made the blistering, foot-scourging trek all the way to Golgotha, covering the distance and so much more.

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The Rapture of Rescue

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.  He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.  They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.  He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” –2 Samuel 22:17-20

“He said, ‘Come.’  So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” –Matthew 14:29-32

Consider these two pictures of a God who rescues his beloved.

David recalls a time of helpless flailing amid a surging sea of powerful, relentless enemies.  Although we can trust that his troubles and subsequent rescue were quite real, David describes the work of God’s saving grace in the figurative sense … reaching down, taking hold of him, strengthening him for the fight of his life, and then setting him on solid ground—where he can breathe easily and deeply—far from the swirling tides that had engulfed him.  David recounts joyfully the reason for this rescue:  the Lord is moved by a sense of sheer delight, not mere duty.  The earthly king of Israel delights in knowing that the one and only King of kings delights in him.

Just as David pursued God’s heart, so too does Peter. Jesus bids him come, and he does.  In faith, the disciple walks a few steps across the waves.  Then he takes his eyes off Jesus and plunges into the dark, choppy waves.  Here, God in the flesh literally reaches down, takes hold of Peter, and bears him across the swelling surface of the sea to the boat full of open-mouthed disciples.  In the course of this rescue, Peter is admonished for his faltering faith.

This rebuke notwithstanding, Peter gains unique perspective:  he seems to be the only disciple whom Jesus directly and physically saves before the ascension.  How might this have felt?  The strong, outstretched arm reaching down into the roiling waters … the touch of the tightening grip around a shivering limb … the sense of weightlessness as the Rescuer gracefully lifts the heavy deadness of a body given over to gravity … the exhilaration of feeling your heels skimming through the wave-tops as the Savior whisks you to the boat (the lifeboat), where you are awakened to the wonderful fact of stillness, rest, and restoration.

“And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'” –Matthew 14:33

Truly, indeed.  May we not only acknowledge Christ’s majesty but also, like Peter, experience the thrill of that majesty wrapping around our pummeled souls in the merciful embrace of His rescue.