When grace punched me in the gut

We’re sitting in a huge barn, an open kitchen to one side and a coffee service area to the other. 

Running down the middle of the barn are three long, sturdy tables. Over to one of the walls, there’s a smattering of white handprints, reaching over each other to form a mountain. 

The pastor stands in front of the group with a guitar. 

We’re singing ‘Amazing Grace’. The group is 40 percent Iranian refugees, 40 percent ex-prisoners and 20 percent ex-conservative-North-Shore-Christians (that’s where I sit). 

Minutes earlier, we‘d been sitting outside on picnic tables, eating fresh pineapple and watermelon, overlooking the endless greenness of fields and flowers and vegetable patches and horses. 

A baby sits on the ground watching a dog who’s watching a chicken. 

The farm is a community organisation, a place where ex-criminals come to learn how to farm, build furniture from recycled timber, rehabilitate race-horses, make jams and candles and cook for each other. 

I’m sitting in the service, reflecting on a handful of frustrations in my personal life. Replaying conversations and events. Work run-ins. Sydney traffic. 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me. 

One of the hardened guys who had been in prison gets up and tells us in tears that after praying every day, he had finally seen his two sons for the first time in three years. 

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. 

“After you identify the hurt and feel it in your body, welcome it. Stop fighting it. Stop splitting and blaming. Welcome the anger..when we name it, feel it, welcome it, transformation can begin.” Richard Rohr

I can’t stand being vulnerable like that, letting raw emotion bubble up in me in front of others. 

And like a flood, His mercy rains. Unending love, amazing grace. 

What if a greater source of my suffering is not allowing myself to feel? Or really show myself?  

What if I’ve mistaken the Christian walk to be reaching the destination of perfection? 

I will reflect God in my togetherness! God has blessed me because He’s on my side! 

Surrounded by people who wear their brokenness on the outside is humbling.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow/ the sun forbear to shine.

The tables that run through the middle of the barn are made by the people here in this community. Thick, rich brown wood full of scratches. 

Rectangular cut-outs on each plank speak of the wood being used as a fence in a previous life. 

Now, instead of demarcating boundaries, it’s creating a shared space. 

We’re all here, this rag-tag bunch of sinners, or ‘ragamuffins’ as Brennan Manning famously put it. 

Here, at the table, I’m connected to my humanity. I don’t need to put on a full face of make-up.

“To the extent that I reject my ragamuffin identity, I turn away from God, the community and myself. I become a man obsessed by illusion, a man of false power and fearful weakness, unable to think, act or love”. Brennan Manning.

How do I ever manage to love anyone when my attention and energy is fixed on perfecting my image, like an Instagram filter? 

What a privilege to be invited to the table. 

How liberating to realise that I don’t need to expend so much energy trying to maintain the appearance of a saint but to relax into my humanity and embrace those around me who are doing the same. 

“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

The service ends, and we have lunch together. We say our goodbyes and pack into cars and buses and trundle back down the driveway into the real world, refreshed, recharged.

 

Cherie Lee is a writer living in the surfing capital of Australia: Torquay, Victoria. She still can’t surf.
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Cherie Lee is a writer living in the surfing capital of Australia: Torquay, Victoria. She still can’t surf.

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