The nuns taught us that there are two ways through life:
The way of nature
And the way of grace
You have to choose which one you will follow
Grace doesn’t try to please itself
It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked
Accepts insults and injuries
Nature only wants to please itself
And others to please it too
Likes to lord it over them
To have its own way
It finds reasons to be unhappy
Though all the world is shining around it
And love is shining through all things
They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end
I will be true to you, whatever comes.
This is the opening narrative in Malick’s Tree of Life. Watched it in the theater several months ago. Recovering from the flu the past two days, I felt it calling to me again this afternoon. I love Malick’s work. Visually and audibly he draws me in, without overtly through foregrounding dialogue explaining everything. Or anything.
Disturbingly unpredictable, confusing, obtuse, beautiful.
Like much of life.
The introductory monologue about the two ways seized and held me through the entire viewing. Grace and nature. How we must choose. How grace doesn’t fight against nature but absorbs the blows, the blows ultimately enhancing, adding to its own rhythms.
Too much time in my life spent fighting, fretting over things I’m not meant to change. Too much time spent imitating Jacob and his long night of wrestling. The illusion that such wrestling won him anything that wasn’t already his.
“All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.”
That’s a statement that is as enigmatic as anything Malick has ever put on the screen.
The way of grace that doesn’t tolerate or obliterate all extremes and contrasts of darkness and light, but that embraces them, absorbs them into its own harmonies.
There’s a very long Greek word for this: anakephalaiosasthai. It’s from Paul’s opening hymn sung for the benefit of the Ephesian saints, a word meaning, essentially, “to sum up one thing after another after another after another under one source of life and being” – or as in the traditional rendering, “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
More enigma. More peering into that glass darkly.
But watching the way of grace play out in the mother and the way of nature in the father in Tree of Life, I found myself choosing the way of grace again. I found myself praying.
Let the kindness and gentleness, the joyfulness and playfulness of Christ beat within me. Set me free from imagining I could ever embody the irresistable force that would budge the unmoveable object, or that I was ever meant to.
Lead me into the rest of your easy yoke.
Lead me ever more deeply into the way of grace.