Tag Archives: grace

immoderatio omnis

Scattered thoughts on mercy.


We are very good at things we can measure, sounding the height and width and depth of things which have limits. But mercy is immeasurable. Who shall weigh the water from a gushing spring? Who will moderate the sun, or be offended that it does not dim its rays?

We are used to thinking in Aristotelian terms of a good thing as generally being the mean between two extremes. Don’t go overboard; what is healthy and normal, apt to our nature, is found in moderation rather than excess.

And yet mercy is always extreme. The very nature of God is an excess, an overflow. How strange it is that, from the Garden of Eden, we have always balked at this, always had difficulty believing God is our Father, always resisted asking for what He longs to give us. (What if Adam and Eve had simply repented?)

The earth was formless and void.

They have no wine.

Christ’s first miracle, like God’s first act in time, was a response to the simple fact of emptiness. And the gift has been pressed down and running over ever since. So His mercy sees the void in us and runs to fill it beyond all need and comprehension.


Salvation does not consist in beating the breast but in walking back to God. Judas and the prodigal both acknowledged their sin, but only one of them returned.

Only one of them acknowledged that it was to a Father that he addressed his words.

I have to remember this. I may acknowledge my sin, I may pray a Psalm like 51 and know uncomfortably how very true it is of me, and yet do so in a way that is morose. I am wretched, God. I am wretched. I am looking at how wretched I am. I can’t get away from how wretched I am. Behold my wretchedness. And I forget to add that I am a son, and He is my Father. I forget to look up, to find Him already running toward me down the road. I forget that the grace of seeking Him can only come because He has left everything—the shepherd in the wilderness, the housewife overturning all the furniture, the child in the manger—to find me. I forget that the angels in heaven rejoiced, with real and expansive joy, when David the adulterer and the murderer mourned my sin is ever before Thee.

David acknowledged he was sick; but David asked for healing, and believed that it would come.

Sorrow is only holy, I suppose, when it is part of a larger joy. The bent head, the face ashamed, the fist beating the wicked heart—must be part of a turn to Godward, a real expectation of and readiness to respond to the mercy we will find there, yearning to make us saints.

O, God, You long to pour out Your mercy upon us.

We must accept it; we must become its ministers, its conduits, channels through which it may burst from Your heart and overwhelm the world as the waters cover the sea.

So often You give mercy to one of us through another. Moses stood in the breach before You, and You showered Israel with grace. Mary asked for wine from You, and it exploded by the gallon into jars.

There is nothing tame or rational about mercy. Mercy is wild, superabundant, bursting all our categories. And it is natural. For God alone normality is defined by excess; mercy is unbounded; infinity is the measure of Love.

We may take offense at it; we may balk at the fact that we can neither justify nor understand it, that it is too big for us to control.

Or we may enter into it and let God change everything in us.

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miserere nobis

Incipient thoughts in the Year of Mercy.

Praying before the Sacrament, praying Lord have mercy, the thought that came was, I always have, and I realized–that it is not our prayer which causes His mercy. Rather our prayer aligns us with it; it cleans the glass, pivots the mirror so as to catch the light that was always there. Our prayer is not the source or sluicegate but the hollowing of the rock, the turning of the cup from upside-down to right-side-up, so that it fills with what has always been falling upon it.

And what can His Heart desire but that we pray this, without ceasing, with ever-increasing joy, for ourselves and the world?


Mater misericordiae; speculum iustitiae. The Mother of Mercy is also the Mirror of Justice. I suppose mercy and justice only intersect in the heart of Love: it is only Love which can make sense of them, or of the fact that our redemption is prefigured by the Exodus. How longingly these Mass readings look to the freeing of captives–get thee up on a hill, O Jerusalem, and behold thy children coming from the East. The plea for justice time after time in the Old Testament is the plea for the restoration of Zion.

It is as though sin was an offense against our nature as well as God’s.

Justice is the restoration of our fallenness, from within, to the perfection that He originally called us to: His uttered grace. And so mercy is not about sanctioning our brokenness, but healing it; it does not reassure us that we never fell, but looks to what we should have been, mending the fault which justice condemns.

So mercy and justice meet in the restoration, the perfection of human nature, the love of God; the hearts of Mary and of Christ.

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of oak trees and eschatology

(what more could one want?)

I have been thinking, lately, of Light.

Because I have been reading Shakespeare, you shall have a prologue. (Because I am not Shakespeare, it will be irrelevant. One might even say tangential; though one wouldn’t, because only mathematicians say that sort of thing. Besides, it might inspire in one the sudden urge to cry out “partial vectors!” or “cosine!!!” or “parallelogram!” (being in the same general vein) in a loud voice, which—if one is indoors, or has neighbors—is not an advisable circumstance).

 Recently, in an excess of back-to-Dallas fervor, I persuaded myself to arise to the delicate chirpings of my alarm (actually, it does not chirp. It vibrates with the zeal of an enraged robotic hamster.) for one of the only things that can drag me forth from blissful slumbers at 7:00 in the morning: a picnic. Having scuffled about gathering requisite things like coffee and blankets and bell peppers (you try being a grad student and having suitable breakfast-picnic-food to hand!), I lumbered off to the nearest park, where, defying the clammy morn in my hobo coat (a relic of the 60’s and the Rummage Sale, sporting obnoxious brassy buttons and a lining tattered to bits), I curled up on a nice patch of fossilized grass and commenced the festivities.

Sometime during this sleepy interlude of caffeine and gnarled branches and dubious neighborhood dogs, a thought fluttered rather unexpectedly by. It’s an old thought, which has visited me in other forms throughout the years, but it came in a new form; having caught it with cold fingers on a colder page, I bring it hither.

(So ends the prologue.)

Tree, bark, morning light. Does the light come that we may understand the tree, or are all the ripples and ridges and odd edges just so—that we may learn the light?

I’m reminded of the storm that hit Hillsdale last February, when ice descended on the trees and every angle of their massive, cracking forms sent back reflections of the sun. Even at night, branches usually thick with darkness now sparkled with light, crystalizing the orange glow of street lamps into little rivulets of Fairyland exploding against the sky. But for the ice, we would never have known the beauty hidden in that artificial twilight, the dull haze that pervaded campus night after night. It made me wonder whether grace isn’t a little like that: God’s grace, everywhere, the essential atmosphere of the universe—yet we who have not the eyes of angels or the dispensation of prophets would miss it, were it not gathered (suddenly, unexpectedly) into shapes, forms that astonish us when we seem them clear. O!—a stone! There! Grass!—A tree!—one of the words of God (and it was good) made tangible before us. Is this what benediction looks like? (And the Spirit hovered over the face of the deep, and brought forth visible graces.)

And just as common things are incarnations of mystery, so they (like Mary, like us) are bearers of light. For light is a thing that touches us—not just instrumental, “that by which we see,” but an adornment, a glory fingering surfaces, flowing upon our faces. Essential, illuminating, invisible: we don’t learn it by looking at the sun or the air, but at bark and icicles and the westering hills; wherever some thing, by merely being, catches up the glory—and renders back, in its own idiom, one of the Names of light.

The sun peeps through the mists on a Texas morning, streaming along the edges of oaks, gilding their slanted branches–and suddenly the relationship reverses, equalizes, shoots in both directions. For the tree (the seeming subject of the scene) is no sooner illuminated, than it proves itself a herald or interpreter of that greater subject, the sun. Perhaps this is the purpose of its existence, here, on this damp, tawny slope in the suburbs—not to be revealed, but to reveal. Or both: bearer and borne manifested at once, glorifier and glorified united in harmony. Like the quiet “yes” after the annunciation. Like Creation in the last day, dancing before its God.

Glory. One of those little words that rolls off the tongue, whose meaning neither the mind nor the heart of man has conceived. But perhaps this exact coincidence of light and lit, the object illuminated and bodying forth its illuminator in one and the same event, is something akin to that mystery. His glory upon us is the means of our being; and we are, only so far as we glorify Him. Cause and effect, means and end, subject and object, break down and run together. Like the trees at dawn, we are drawn from darkness—the abyss of the uncreated, the sin of our nature—by bearing His light; and in our completion, we give utterance to His universal grace.

We look on Him, because He looks on us; and our faces are ours, only when they mirror His.

Even dead grass and oak trees may be a revelation of the sun.


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