Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
This month in America, as we celebrate our country's birth, I can't help but think about the big crack in the Liberty Bell. It seems the right metaphor for our cracked nation. Our beloved patriotic songs catch in our throats as the fissures that divide us grow deeper and the gash in our democracy grows worrisome and the sense of decency we once took for granted becomes fractured on a daily basis. Our ability to face the enormity of the crack and to cry hot tears into its depth is part of what it means to be fully human; but that's not the whole story, as the late Leonard Cohen reminds us.
Cohen would offer, in his inimitable way, the upside of the crack: the light that gets in. We could name it grace — that pure light streaming through the cracks of imperfection, helping us catch vivid glimpses of something greater than our brokenness.
Even a tiny slice of light reveals once hidden possibilities and fresh perspectives and the sense that the crack is not everything there is; there is also our favorite coffee in the morning, the friend who makes us laugh, the movie that makes us feel, the summer vacation that adds zest, the birdsong that stops us in our tracks and lures us into a world of beauty and longing. Oh, there is so much more than the crack!
Yes, there is also grace, that sudden — and often, surprising — awareness that goodness is still alive and kicking in the world, that the stars have not fallen out of the sky, that homemade ice cream on a hot July day still tastes like heaven.
The "crack in everything" nudges us toward the light of a graceful counterpoint streaming through the darkness, illuminating new crevices inside the human spirit. The crack's very presence adds a sense of urgency to our days, a kind of taking account of moments. It's like the difference between buying a book that sits on the shelf waiting to be read but never is, and the library book with a due date. Which one is more likely to be read? The crack awakens us to the ticking clock of need all about us even while it lures us to savor the small graces of our days.
Reckoning with the crack is like reckoning with our own mortality. After a close call with death, we might find ourselves more aware of the sudden appearance of a blue jay or jotting down notes for a memoir or calling an old friend. Memento mori: Remember, you shall die. The upside of a sudden crack in our awareness is an awakening to grace: an urgent sense of restoring relationships, of finishing a creative project, or simply relishing the smell of cedar or the graceful sway of tiger lilies under a blue July sky.
A crack can be a crack and get bigger and uglier, or it can be an aperture for seeing things more clearly. Lest we forget the gifts of imperfection, we need our rituals of grace, our moments alone and in community to intentionally tap into the light that opens into a new world of possibility. We might then see the luminous souls of the courageous — those bright stars who dare to challenge and who invite us to join hands and sing into the darkness: This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
Perhaps, as one practice of grace, we could read a graceful book such as Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass. In that book, the author illuminates the inextricable bond between grace and gratitude. She defines grace as "gifts given without being earned and with no expectation of return." Can we train ourselves to receive such every day graces? To intentionally look for moments of grace and bask in their light and warmth? To not be laden with shameful feelings that we somehow don't deserve it? After all, with grace as our spiritual practice, it's okay if we don't deserve it, because that's what grace is: unearned, undeserved. That's how loved and okay we are! That's the same grace we learn to extend to others — not worrying about whether they deserve it or not. All grace asks of us is a simple "thank you" to that mysterious Something More afoot in the world.
Yes, there is more. In the process world, we imagine this Something More as the God of deep empathy and fresh possibility: the divine light that streams stubbornly through a universe of primarily dark matter. When we feel raw and cracked beyond repair, we have only to reach toward the graceful presence that loves and weeps and understands and never stops shining.
Grace is the upside of imperfection: that startling sense that beauty has not left us, that the future is still open, that God is in the world, and that we are most alive when we are ringing the bells that still can ring.