Messy Grace

A priest recently told me, “Live without murmuring.” 

Murmuring goes on quite a bit within our souls. My soul. 


“As a Christian, your life is full of God’s grace. But it can be a messy grace.”

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. -- Martin Luther

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. — Martin Luther


Mess, I know mess. The Oxford English Dictionary defines mess as one of two meanings. The first, “an untidy state of things.” The second, “A collection of things causing such a state.” Neither definition should imply any dismay, though. My desk is a mess and it always has been, not ashamed to say. Its disarray once disgruntled me, but then I decided to be gruntled. When my family and I have moved from one home to another, I have taken a box, and scooped, slid and shoveled that which is on the desk into the said box, to be closed, taped, reopened in the other home, all to be scooped, slid and shoveled onto the desk in the new glorious estate.


There is nothing graceful to it, or is there? And murmuring? It can drive deep.


Saint Benedict’s rule of food (Chapter 39) assumes a level of messy grace. Eating with your friends, or your family, or your enemies, is rarely pretty. Children must be corrected, friends’ elbows are ignored, and your enemies? Well, you’re supposed to be praying for them, aren’t you?


“Making allowance for the infirmities of different persons, we believe that for the daily meal, both at the sixth and the ninth hour, two kinds of cooked food are sufficient at all meals; so that he who perchance cannot eat of one, may make his meal of the other. Let two kinds of cooked food, therefore, be sufficient for all the brethren. And if there be fruit or fresh vegetables, a third may be added. Let a pound of bread be sufficient for the day, whether there be only one meal or both dinner and supper. If they are to eat supper, let a third part of the pound be reserved by the Cellarer and be given at supper.


If, however, the work hath been especially hard, it is left to the discretion and power of the Abbot to add something, if he think fit, barring above all things every excess, that a monk be not overtaken by indigestion. For nothing is so contrary to Christians as excess, as our Lord saith: “See that your hearts be not overcharged with surfeiting” (Lk 21:34).


Let the same quantity of food, however, not be served out to young children but less than to older ones, observing measure in all things.


But let all except the very weak and the sick abstain altogether from eating the flesh of four-footed animals.”


Benedict understood the idea of messy grace. It is charity. There will be two kinds of food, because of your picky brethren; there will be a selection of food reserved by the Cellarer because otherwise we know we would eat it all up; and he understood that young children must begin with a bit of food because those stomachs are smaller than the eyes.  And, true, there is nothing so contrary to Christians as excess. Contrary to Christians.


The Rev. Canon William Cliff, Chaplain to Huron University College at Western University in London, Ontario, says, “Spiritual work messes things up. Grace is a messy business that upsets how we see ourselves, how we see the world, and how the world sees us. When grace gets a hold of us, all the usual pieces of the puzzle don’t fit the same way anymore. The grudges we hold won’t matter, the anger we harbor fizzles and the compassion we have been seeking for ourselves spills out and ends up running away with our hearts and emotions. We end up changing. Changing is messy business.”


As we enter into the season of Lent, let us repent and return – fallen, faithful, and forgiven, never losing Him.


Rebecca Terhune ’15

Photo: Henri Cartier-Bresson#photography #kids


About nashotahhouse

Located in Nashotah, Wisconsin, Nashotah House Theological Seminary is the oldest institute of higher education in the state of Wisconsin. Founded in 1842 by a Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Nashotah House belongs to the Anglican tradition of worship, theology and spirituality. That is, Nashotah House traces her roots to the Church of England and locates herself within the worldwide Anglican Communion. Comprehending the fundamental disciplines of Holy Scripture, Theology, Church History, Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry, the curriculum at Nashotah House not only roots our students in the ancient wisdom of the Church, it prepares and empowers them to communicate the Gospel to the world today.