Grace happens in unlikeliest places


By Lamar Massingill
Guest Columnist 

He was not impressive looking, but his spirit was wildly adventurous. My car needed some maintenance, and Walter said he would gladly look it over I could tell he immediately perceived it as something which would be his joy to do. There was an outrageous sense of adventure about him as he went about his work — something I had never seen before in a mechanic at an Exxon station. He chased engine problems as if he was a one man posse after a fugitive, and utter excitement possessed him at finding them. 

Watching him was a spiritual event for me; for one who grew up thinking my life simply would not count until I had degrees, titles and money. Perhaps Walter knew more than I about living — or perhaps it was just a good day for him. Whatever, I knew I had been spoken to. It was grace from an unlikely place. It was serendipity: something found, but not sought. 

For those who have eyes to see, grace can happen anywhere, and grace-full moments can seize us without expectation. They can happen through people, events or things which we gaze upon daily. 

Some of the most graceful things I have learned have been through things and people lost, abandoned or despised by society; throw away things or people who don’t fit society’s conception of what is right or normal. Unlikely people in unlikely places. Perhaps they are purveyors of serendipity and grace because they are genuine and carry no pretense. 

I’ve always been more interested in the story of a waitress at Waffle House than in the stories of the finest royalty America has to offer. Many times I find more grace in conversation than in scripture read so flippantly, self-righteously and many times violently; in my familial and personal history than in the history of Israel; in the cool blue of the gulf than in an old-fashion camp meeting revival. Right or wrong, I’ve always been more interested in the graceful dimensions of the ordinary than in the crucial events of Christian orthodoxy. 

Why? Because I believe that’s among the best places God is found. And my intuition is that my dear friend Sally-Lodge Teel was right when she said that the day of her spiritual awakening came when, “I saw and knew God in everything and everything in God.”

Though Jesus made it his practice to attend the synagogue weekly, we need be reminded many times that he hung around the strugglers the most — the common folks. They are the ones with whom he shared the most important form of grace: the meal. 

The religious leaders threatened him because they were always trying to control religious orthodoxy: what people could believe and what they couldn’t. To the Pharisees, Jesus was a perceived threat in this area. To Jesus, however, real grace was to be found among real people, those who were not into religious facades. He always put the sinner who knew, and made no pretense about what s/he was, as more righteous than the Pharisee who was so proud of how many times he said a prayer every day, or how many times he was in the synagogue. He never found much grace in those who were always keeping a religious scorecard, but in those who lived their lives with no scorecard, in places which didn’t even sell scorecards.  

Unlikely people in unlikely places. These are the places where God is reflected the most, and his love the most needed.

A published author, Massingill is minister at the United Methodist churches of Richton and Sand Hill, and religion editor at “The Magnolia Gazette.” He newest book, “Soul Places,” is now available.