“At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then–and only then–it is handed to you.” –Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Odd isn’t it, that there is work in receiving grace? It was Dallas Willard who said that grace is opposed to earning, not effort. How strange it is that grace and effort are symbiotically linked in a relationship designed to throw the lazy off the track. Couple the word “grace” with “free” and spend a few hundred years railing against meritorious work and life lived knocking on the Christian door can get pretty out of kilter. The conundrum of the loving Jesus offering grace set against the Jesus of Revelation 2 and 3 who says unless you turn around and change what you’re doing I’m going to take your lampstand away, spit you out of my mouth, and (perhaps, if you’re Thyatira’s Jezebel), kill your children…well, this is hard stuff.
It seems strange to have to work at receiving a gift. But there is work to be done in receiving a thing, especially if you think you’re above the gift…or the giver. Perhaps this is why pride is the worst of sins–it keeps you from receiving the grace being poured out.
Dillard writes about this so eloquently in the fifth chapter of The Writing Life. She describes that sensation follows the hard work of probing, researching, hunting, structuring, and alligator-wrestling sentences. When the work actually appears, even as you stand there with sweat dripping off your nose, you know that the arrival of the solution, the form, the final expression of what you had in mind all along has very little, if anything, to do with you. The chapter, the novel, the play, the poem…they arrive by grace, as you are faithful.
Grace grows crops, but only if we seed, plow, and harvest.
God embeds his ways in ours, inviting us to join in shouldering the world even as He carries the whole thing.
Be faithful, show up, apply muscle, and open your hands and arms as wide as you can. And grab some friends. There is way more grace pouring out than we can handle by ourselves.
One Reply to “The Unmerited Grace of the Work”
“When the work actually appears, even as you stand there with sweat dripping off your nose, you know that the arrival of the solution, the form, the final expression of what you had in mind all along has very little, if anything, to do with you (I wish I could underline that last phrase). Grace grows crops, but only if we seed, plow, and harvest.”
Jeff, Thank you for this profound reminder that the grace of creativity does not fall like a gold bar into our laps, but that we must be available, willing, and dare I say – ready. What a sacred trust is the gift of creativity, but only if we actively demonstrate our willingness to receive it. From Madeleine L’Engle; “The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver.”
Walking on Water / pg. 18
And now, back to work!