Scripture: Ephesians 2: 3-7
“All of us once lived in the passions of our flesh and senses and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
As the scripture indicates, all of us have places of brokenness within us. The text names us as “children of wrath.” Another way of saying this is that we all have parts of us that need healing. We have voices of judgement and critique within us that are often based in early experiences of shame or hurt.
Over those hurting parts, broken places, and harsh, judging inner voices God offers to us rich mercy. The Spirit sees through to all our judging parts and embraces them with love. God offers to us grace and mercy in abundance without us having to do a thing. Such an amazing grace is called prevenient grace. It names the grace that God offers before we do anything; God takes the first step toward us to be in relationship.
John Wesley, the founder of the people called Methodists, resonated with this kind of grace. Wesley had a very harsh inner critic, a judging self-voice. It drove him to be incredibly productive and a hard worker, but kept him from softening to a sense of God’s assurance in his life. Prevenient grace became central in his understanding of our way of life with God. He wrote a sermon on Ephesians 2:5 (by grace you have been saved_ called “Means of Grace.” In that sermon he writes,:
So little do they understand that great foundation of the whole Christian building, ‘by grace ye are saved.’ Ye are saved from your sins, from the guilt and power thereof, ye are restored to the value and image of God, not for any works, merits, or deservings of yours, but by the free grace, the mere mercy of God through the merits of his well-beloved Son. Ye are thus saved, not by any power, wisdom, or strength which is in you or in any other creature, but merely through the grace or power of the Holy Ghost, which worth all in all. (Wesley, Sermons, 161.)
Wesley offers here a beautiful movement from judgement to mercy–from guilt and brokenness to the restoration of the image of God through grace. What a huge gift. Our challenge is to open to the grace that is already there and waiting for us–taking the first step toward us.
Julian of Norwich, a wise Christian mystic from the fourteenth century, wrote in her work Revelations of Divine Love on God’s mercy and grace to us in our brokenness, our failings. She notes that when we fall, God is always with us, encouraging us in grace.
“God allows us to fall, and in his blessed love we are preserved by his strength and wisdom; and through mercy and grace we are raised to a greater abundance of joys. And thus God wants to be known and loved now and forever in his righteousness and in his mercy. And the soul that truly sees this through grace takes pleasure in both and rejoices without end.” (Julian of Norwich, Selections from Revelations of Divine Love, annotation by Mary C. Earle, Skylight Illuminations, 33.)
Julian understands that we will fall in life, that suffering and brokenness will happen. Like any wise parent, God gives us the freedom to fall and fail, to grow from the failure, to try again. God is always there to catch us up in grace and mercy, so that we might more fully know God’s love in our human experience.
We will practice difficult balance poses, that will cause us to wobble, and maybe even fall. These poses offer us the chance to explore how our inner judgement voice rises up in times of challenge and failure. The balance poses invite us on a journey from judgement to grace, to fall, as Julian of Norwich says, and through mercy and grace be raised to greater joy. As we fall and wobble, we come back down to the ground and open to grace. So, after a beginning class focused on balancing postures, we’ll end the practice in restorative poses that invite us to rest in God’s prevenient grace and mercy.
We will do the standing balance pose featured in the picture for this post. Balance poses are really difficult for me with my neurological condition. I always wobble and often fall out. I usually need the assistance of a wall, or here, a tree, to help me with balance. I sometimes hear an inner critic of my body and its physical limitations and challenges rise up in me as I do balance poses. Julian of Norwich teaches that it is indeed the fallings and failings (for me in balance poses) that God catches in grace and raises us to joy. I love that in the picture here, I’m smiling big even as I wobble!
Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions
(from https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/extended-hand-to-big-toe-pose, accessed March 9, 2018)
From Tadasana, bring your left knee toward your belly.
Reach your left arm inside the thigh, cross it over the front ankle, and hold the outside of your left foot. If your hamstrings are tight, hold a strap looped around the left sole.
Firm the front thigh muscles of the standing leg, and press the outer thigh inward.
Inhale and extend the left leg forward. Straighten the knee as much as possible. If you’re steady, swing the leg out to the side. Breathe steadily; breathing takes concentration, but it helps you balance.
Hold for 30 seconds, then swing the leg back to center with an inhale, and lower the foot to the floor with an exhale. Repeat on the other side for the same length of time.