A bible lays open on a table with a pen and notepad nearby

Grace In the Ordinary

I’ve had a practice with my band and jazz band students at the faith-based university where I teach of sharing a brief devotional meditation from my recent Bible reading at the start of each rehearsal. It is short and often, at least to me, quite unremarkable. I’ve pledged to them that I will not sermonize or “come up with something” but simply share a Scripture verse that has spoken to me in some way that week, often quite small and ordinary. Over the years, I’ve gotten more positive feedback about this little practice than I have about how I direct the band! This humble little routine seems to carry more weight than the well-prepared, highly professional (I hope) music directing I try to do for the remaining 60 minutes or so of our time together.

It often strikes me that the students may perceive me as more “spiritual” (whatever that means!) than I really am because of this. I am certainly not trying to be, nor do I feel very impressive as I give these words each rehearsal. But, apparently, it sticks – at least for some.

The fascinating part of this is that sometimes within 10 minutes of giving this little Scripture nugget to the ensemble something in the rehearsal irritates me or even infuriates me, and an old, familiar battle ensues. My impatience threatens to bubble to the surface and come out in sarcasm, a raised voice, or just a tone that is efficient at best, unloving at worst. At this point in my career, I rarely explode on a roomful of students, but the energy of annoyance is present in me and, I would suspect, felt in my students.

This seems to matter little to them! The grace of that spoken word, taken from the pages of my life as much as the pages of Scripture, transmits something of God to them, or so it seems. I am humbled.

Kathleen Norris describes this as the “scandal of the Incarnation” – the sacred mingling so absurdly with the common. She writes,

When a place or time seems touched by God, it is an overshadowing, a sudden eclipsing of my priorities and plans. But even in terrible circumstances and calamities, in matters of life and death, if I sense that I am in the shadow of God, I find light, so much light that my vision improves dramatically. I know that holiness is near.

And it is not robed in majesty. It does not assert itself with the raw power of empire (not even the little empire of the self in which I all too often reside), but it waits in puzzlement, it hesitates. Coming from Galilee, as it were, from a place of little hope, it reveals the ordinary circumstances of my life to be full of mystery, and gospel, which means “good news.”

-Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris, Riverhead books 1998

Perhaps my 2-minute ruminations of what God seems to be speaking to me, a flawed man, is a small glimpse for my students of the “sense that I am in the shadow of God.” And, of course, I am. And my students want to know that it is true, that it is possible, that God still throws His shadow their way, too.

Grace in the ordinary.

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