One Small Change: A Different Kind of Grace

This beautiful post by the wise Tara Owens came at a perfect time for me, as I had a incident with a cup of coffee and my brand new MacBook Air this morning. I love Tara’s take on “saying grace” as an invitation to discomfort in our own hearts and a way in which change may begin to take root in us.

As I pray desperate prayers for the giant Tupperware of rice to somehow miraculously heal my computer, I’m reminded of my own privilege: the fact that I not only have a computer, but that I have an old (albeit clunky) backup computer that still allows me to do my work…in spite of my small, technological tragedy. As my friend Glennon would say, STARS, STARS, STARS!!

Today, I invite you to lean in with me to the beautiful, uncomfortable invitation of grace.Please welcome Tara here today!

photo by c lee at creationswap
photo by c lee at creationswap

When I first came to faith, I was living as an alien in a large metropolitan city. Holding citizenship in a different country was a continual reminder that I was different from those around me, and my conversion pushed me further out into what I perceived as the margins of power in a power-centered town.

So I took up little acts of rebellion.

Correcting people’s grammar when they referred to the United States as “America”, asking co-workers not to use “Jesus Christ” as an expletive, insisting on saying grace over meals in public places.

This last I did wherever I was, whenever I could. Although I’d perfunctorily ask others if they minded, I rarely listened for the response before launching into a kind of prayer-speech designed more to discomfit the people at the table than to give thanks to God for what we were about to receive.

I thought myself so courageous, a defender of the faith, when the only thing that was “so” about my actions was self-righteous. I was more interested in keeping myself comfortable than caring for others, more interested in my position (and defending it), than meet people where they were.

I look back at my younger self with kindness and chagrin, continually made aware that each stage of the spiritual journey comes with its own wisdom and blindnesses. But I’ve also come to believe that I was close to getting something right in my early fervor: grace should make someone uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, back then, the someone I wanted to make uncomfortable over salad and sandwiches was my meal mate. Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that the person shifting uncomfortably in her chair, holding her napkin to her knees should best be me.

Hang with me here.

I’m a contemplative at heart, a spiritual director by vocation. I often sit with those burned out by work in the church, burned out by work in social justice, whose lives with God have become dry and meaningless. Together we journey into rest and stillness, peace and shalom. It’s a vital path, one that means living into real wholeness in God, and many times it means the person has to let go of doing in order to simple be before God as the Beloved.

And yet, emphasis on the opposite—being without doing—is also the temptation of those for whom silence and introspection are natural (myself very much included.) Without some form of moving into the world on behalf of Christ’s justice and mercy for all, it’s easy to become self-obsessed and self-involved, unable to look up from your own interior work to see that there’s a world around you who desperately needs God’s love worked out through you.

Seeing this tendency in myself, I started where I could, with who I am. Prayer is a place of comfort for me, and I knew that it needed to be troubled in order to step toward God’s heart for the world. Remembering my zealous younger self, I invited her out to being to discomfit me instead.

Now, whenever grace—honest thanksgiving—over a meal is appropriate, in my home or out of it, I spend some time actually looking at my meal. The lettuce, where might it have come from? The meat, who raised the animal, slaughtered it, packaged it so that it could appear sanitized at my grocery store? I imagine well beyond the hands that cooked the meal to those who grew and tended the food, often in low-income, impoverished circumstances. Who drove the truck that brought this food to me?

And then, with all of the people who made my meal possible in mind, I give thanks. I ask God for justice for the workers, for adequate wages, better living conditions. More than that, I ask God to comfort and be near them, to bless them for the ways they have blessed me.

It makes me squirm, I’ll admit, to own before God the ways my economic choices, my privilege make meals possible, but it’s also a choice to live in a way that keeps me aware of that, not just personally, but spiritually. It’s a choice to be changed, to be open, to be present to the reality that injustice exists, and it’s sitting next to me at dinner.

That, to me, is what it means to make a meal a holy, to give and receive grace at the table, because it’s isn’t just the Communion table that stretches throughout the world to encompass all of my brothers and sisters in the human family, it’s my dinner table as well.


tara_nov13Tara M. Owens, CSD is a spiritual director and supervisor with Anam Cara Ministries, the Senior Editor of Conversations Journal, and the author of a forthcoming book on spirituality & the body published by InterVarsity Press (sign up here to keep updated). She loves red velvet cupcakes and once had a warrant out for her arrest. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Bryan, and her rescue dog, Hullabaloo. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

5 thoughts on “One Small Change: A Different Kind of Grace

  1. “It’s a choice to be changed, to be open, to be present to the reality that injustice exists, and it’s sitting next to me at dinner.” Thank you for making me squirm a bit. Well said.

  2. Praying for your laptop, Addie. I did that to mine (tea not coffee) last year. The motherboard was toast (or perhaps soggy toast), but the Mac folk were able to save my hard drive with my manuscript, thank God. It’s such a terrible feeling when that happens.

  3. I’m late to this party, I know, but I love this, Tara.
    One of my the things I tell myself a lot lately has been: pay attention to what makes you uncomfortable. I learn so much from those places, even when I don’t enjoy it.

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