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I was born and reared in New England at a time when denominations did not mix and the word ecumenism was not in the dictionary.
If it was, no one mentioned it. Interfaith dialogue was equally foreign. We all remained firmly ensconced in our own enclaves, fortified by our particular code, creed and cult.
It was understandable I had never heard the phrase, “stand in the gap.” Never heard it, that is, until I moved south.
In the hallway of a local church was a bulletin board bearing an invitation to join others as they “stood in the gap.” Stood in what gap, I wondered. When I questioned someone about it, I learned about the gap between evil and good, the devil and God. I learned that good people opted to stand in that gap to keep others from falling into it.
The tidbit of information was stored in my consciousness. Nothing was done to enliven it. In fact, I had forgotten the incident until I heard a friend speak about the gaps in his life.
He began his story with details about some issues he had with faulty roofing on his house. A roofer came to inspect the area and diagnose the problem. Before long, he pronounced his finding: “Look here. There’s a gap between the roofing and your house. When the wind blows hard and comes in sideways, it lifts up the shingles, exposes the gap and the water comes in.”
What must now be done? It’s obvious. Something has to stand in the gap.
This is not the end of the story, as well you might guess. My friend and his new buddy, the roofer, continued their conversation. My friend learned about other instances where rain had found its way into houses, damaging walls and causing much dismay. Owners searched at length and could not isolate the problem until Friend Roofer was summoned. He knew immediately the culprit would be that evasive gap.
As they conversed, the two men were led, and subsequently leapt, to the mutual conclusion that they were dialoguing about something much more significant that a hole in a rooftop. They shared deeply of the various gaps in their lives, their faith, their understanding of God and God’s call to them.
They mutually proclaimed the value of those gaps as means for God to make real how fundamentally lacking they had been in spiritual matters, in all that really made life worth living. Smiling, they admitted that gaps keep cropping up demanding repair.
All of us in the room listened intently to the story that was not the tale of one man but a saga to which we could all relate. All of us had been touched, rained upon, by the gap in the roof of our spirituality. All of us needed a roof doctor to help us mend our ways. All of us needed to be such a healer for others, a healer who understood because the “holes in their holiness” were also ours.
As I listened, I learned. It dawned on me the gap being described could also be perceived as “Grace Absolving Permanently.” That thought stood soundly for me. It helped me to see that all is grace. Nothing that happens to me, with me, through me, or for me is anything less than an opportunity to grow more deeply in love with the God who loves me more deeply than I could ever imagine.
Sharing that thought, floodgates opened. Everyone present began to relate stories of grace events. Some spoke of being overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the moment. Others just glowed, basking in the wonder of the gift they had both received and accepted. One person related it to the familiar song, “Amazing Grace.”
He commented on the fact it’s all about relationships, divine and human. It’s all about moments when we know that we are close to God, moments when we are much more conscious that God is close to us, closer than our breath.
We determined we’d not let prayer become a duty, solely. Instead, we’d grow in awareness that it is the time we give ourselves to solidify our relationship with God. It is our continual chance to touch base, to center ourselves, to discover the joy of divine friendship as well as human companionship.
Nothing in our lives will have been changed. Alarm clocks will still awaken us, if needed. Chores will await our attention. Meals will be eaten. Appointments will be made and kept. We’ll go to church services, golf games and share fun times with friends. We’ll talk about all kinds of things, serious and frivolous. We’ll read books, sing songs, maybe even dance a little.
At the same time, everything will be different because we’ll be more intently and intensely aware of everyone and everything. We’ll be living life as covenant people who recognize all as gift, who make real God’s reign on this earth.
Our arguments will be offered with consideration and charity. Our criticism will be committed critiques given with an open heart and open mind, given with a resolution to participate in the change not simply to point out errors or wrongdoing.
In essence, we’ll go beyond standing in the gap to closing it with love. It will mean becoming family together. This is the way we’ll walk with each other, holding hands and learning love. We’ll stop doing religion and begin to live it, day by day. Sometimes, we’ll do it by taking a walk together. Other times, there will be a need for serious confrontation. We may need to speak the truth when it is uncomfortable to do so.
Through it all, we’ll discover that we really have come through many dangers, toils, and snares because grace is leading us home. Other rough spots will appear along the way. No matter. Grace is standing in the gap, cementing its closure, and replacing the rain of evil with the reign of God. Grace is making us whole and holy.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.