Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grace and cliff jumping

I think it may be high time I did some cliff jumping. I've been talking trust and living in the present moment, but some days, irritatingly, I am well aware that it is mostly talk. Aware that something, someone, is holding me back from truly being free to live in grace, even while practicing gratitude. And that someone is none other than me.

There's a tight bond between gratitude and grace which I have yet to explore. Perhaps more than I even imagine, for they appear to be interdependent. Gratitude cannot be expressed without grace, for all is grace in this life; and grace cannot be received without gratitude following closely on its heels. And yet, they are not one in the same.

A story in Brennan Manning's The ragamuffin gospel illustrates the relationship between living in the moment, grace and gratitude:

The meaning of living in fidelity to the present moment, neither retreating to the past nor anticipating the future, is wonderfully illustrated by a Zen story about a monk being pursued by a ferocious tiger. He raced to the edge of the cliff, glanced back, and saw the growling tiger about to spring. The monk spotted a rope dangling over the edge of the cliff. He grabbed it and began shinning down the side of the cliff out of the clutches of the tiger. Whew! Narrow escape. He stared down and saw a huge quarry of jagged rocks five hundred feet below. He looked up and saw the tiger poised atop the cliff with barred claws. Just then, two mice began to nibble at the rope. What to do?

The monk saw a strawberry within arm's reach growing out of the face of the cliff side. He plucked it, ate it, and exclaimed, "Yum-yum; that's the best strawberry I've ever tasted in my entire life." If he had been preoccupied with the rock below (the future) or the tiger above (the past), he would have missed the strawberry God was giving him in the present moment.

I stare at the tigers of my past, the tigers that once looked so sweet and virtuous, and I feel them breathing hot down my neck, reminding me of my past failings (or perceived failings). Reminding me of who I once was and how different I now am from that person, as if the person I am today is inferior, unacceptable. And I peer down with a creased brow at the rocks below, wondering, at what point I'll collide with them. All the while, noticing the strawberry out of the corner of my eye and reaching out to steal nibbles between my preoccupation with the tiger above and the rocks below.

At some point it occurs to me: this isn't freedom. This is not the full life of peace and joy, gratitude and grace, that I believe I'm designed for.

In order to ditch the tiger and tear my gaze from the rocks, I've got to just jump. (I'm digressing from the little Zen illustration, by the way.) I'm talking now about taking the plunge of trust. Freeing myself from my self-made court of judgment and allowing myself to believe that I can live in this moment as acceptable to God, just as I am, without worrying about where I'll be at in the future or who I was in the past. God is present not in the past or in the future, but now, here, in this moment. And with that presence is fullness of joy. If I find that instead of joy there is fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, condemnation, or the like in me, then it may be safe to conclude that I'm not really planted in the here-and-now of God's presence after all. I'm flitting somewhere in between.

Only grace is able to keep me planted in the moment. Grace is able to whisper, "You are free. Jump, and you will be caught. You are meant for joy. You are accepted as you are. Don't be afraid to take the plunge."

And so I jump. Maybe with the need to return again and again to the precipice of this cliff and jump some more, but in this moment, now, I jump.

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