Ordinary Grace

This reflection is part of a collection of responses to the theme: “The View from Here?” 

By Terra Frederick

In the Fall Dr. Copeland asked us the question “how do you experience The Divine most often?” as an opening theological question to that day’s Christian Traditions lecture. We listed off answers as she scribed them on the massive chalkboard. 

When she called on me I said, “the extra good.”  And she pressed me about what that meant.

“Those moments in life when things are just extra good. Life doesn’t have to be that way, but it is.” I answered back. When I gave that answer, I meant the purple trees that grow in Kenmore square. The ones that remind me the most of Fall. It’s grace and unmerited favor. It’s when I told a friend, “You know I really think God wants us to enjoy the life we have. It’s a gift.”

What does grace even look like these days?

Grace looks like the USPS. The postman who delivers letters and packages from friends who I am now in a long-distance relationship with. The same postman who has known me for years who often makes a SECOND trip out to my home if a package comes in the mid-afternoon because he “has time.” And in come clothes, yarn, and books. 

Grace looks like a lady at a former church where I preached more than twenty sermons who sews masks to keep us safe. Who places them in a basket that says “free masks, help yourself.” She’s mailed me eleven. And every single time I wear one, I think of her. That is an act of radical love. 

Grace looks like me when I dig holes in the garden and plant my plant babies. The ones I purchased from a greenhouse a few weeks ago. I work the soil my mother spent years cultivating. And then I water them and speak lovingly to them. “Please grow,” I tell them. I haul cans of water and saturate, and I tend to them. I tie up the tomatoes using left over bits of yarn from past projects with the wooden stakes my dad made from left over wood. I care for the garden even knowing we have a woodchuck who I refuse to relocate and named Fred Astaire. She’s big, and I know that gardening and choosing to plant means she might eat everything before it even has a chance to get established.

But I garden anyway. If she eats everything, then it’s grace for Fred. I tell my parents, “If you see anything in the garden you want, just take it. I’m growing too much.” And I am growing too much. Later in the summer when it’s time to harvest, I’ll leave plants on doorsteps for neighbors and friends. I live in a small town; finding things on your steps from friends is considered a sign of affection.

Grace looks like me working row after row in a knitting project. Over nine years I have spent countless hours knitting and creating, as my hands retain the muscle memory from so many projects. Even in the midst of grief, of despair, of heartbreak, when my hands find the needles and the yarn they know what to do.

My needles have no shortage of projects. Mostly socks. I knit socks mostly because I like knowing that they form a pair, that they will never be lonely. And when it’s time for cold feet, whether metaphorically or physically, hand knit socks can solve both problems. The thing about knitting is that the process is not quick. I am a fast knitter, even so there is nothing fast about knitting. Sometimes it seems as if the skein of yarn I’m knitting never ends; but it always does, and the project gets finished.

I package them up and mail them out, back to the same post office with the same postman, and when he affixes the postage, he comments on how lucky the recipient must be. And I think like it’s a reflex that I don’t want to be knitting socks and mailing them. I want to be physically present. That would be a better present. But socks, maybe in a small way are presence enough. It’s a small grace in this pandemic. Knitting is making love tangible because as I’ve worked the item, I’ve prayed and thought many blessings and prayers.

Grace is biblical studies. Reading the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew is something that keeps me grounded. It’s hard to focus on nearly anything else when I’m translating, as I spend time working the pericope just a word at a time. I read the passages out loud, and sometimes my voice cracks and shakes. I squint. Sometimes it takes me a few tries. But I keep doing it. Any foreign language takes practice. Other times the words just flow. I speak them with an accuracy and clarity that the me a year ago could not have dreamed of. 

One of my Rabbinical friends tells me that “Even when the Hebrew is messed up or you mumble, it changes things, and God still hears you. It’s a blessing.” And I hold that close to me. I mumble through passages, and I keep going. It’s grace knowing the high bar of perfection has been removed. I read things in this ancient language, thankful. For me grace is also found in my deep love for biblical studies and the Hebrew Bible. That I spent my summer working on my passion project on The Book of Job. Of reading books and articles, of distilling information. It’s grace knowing that my scholar heart has something to ground itself in.

Finding the extra good when it does not feel very good; this is where I am finding myself. In the moments when the extra good seems fleeting: the garden needs watering, a knitting project needs attention, and I need a moment of peace from the loud thoughts that fill my mind—as I speak kindly to the plant babies, or I read and highlight a journal article about yet another scholar’s take on the life of a man from Uz. These small acts of grace ground me.

Terra Frederick is a budding Hebrew Bible scholar with a passion for language. She enjoys cups of coffee, puns, and long strolls through art museums and aquariums. She is attempting to knit the world into a better place one skein of yarn at a time. 

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