Amazing Grace: accepting wretchedness

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now, am found, was blind, but now I see.

As I walk through my life as a daughter of God and priest, a hymn or song will often accompany me. Lately it is Amazing Grace.

It started with my first rehearsal with a local feminist choir. Imagine Raging Grannies but with less grey hair. 😉 We have fun, try to bring a little joy and awareness, and may also rewrite or add a verse or two to raise awareness to a particular justice issue. So, on my first night, the task was to re-write Amazing Grace.

Now, this hurt a little. I LOVE Amazing Grace, even with the wretch.  I think the story of John Newton is one of the greatest stories of our history, and in the words of a prof, all the greatest stories are stories of redemption.

We began with talking about the word, “grace”. We agreed that grace represented, for us, the love and sisterhood we have found in the communities of women in which we participate. We made the common change in the second line to “strengthened me” and removed the allusion to salvation.

To admit that we had once been lost, or required salvation, was a huge roadblock for many in the room. Being in a tradition that accepts the faults and weakness of humanity, I have no problem accepting that there are temptations I must avoid, and it is grace that helps me do that: the temptation to lie, or put someone down to build myself up, or ignore someone in need when it is inconvenient for me. Being a feminist does not make me free from those temptations. Walking along with other women and men who are working towards better relationship with one another and our world helps me find the grace to turn from my wretchedness.

In the end, they gave up, and John Newton and I shared a high five.

I also sing Amazing Grace at a lot of funerals. I remember a conversation in seminary when looking at the prayer of commendation in the Book of Alternative Services: Into your hands, O merciful Saviour, we commend your servant…Acknowledge, we pray, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him/her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

The conversation was about the lack of sensitivity of calling a person a sinner in this final moment of saying goodbye. What can a family think who are trying to say goodbye to their grandfather who taught them all to drive and told them stories and the priest is calling him a sinner?

The truth is, I’ve heard a lot of regrets in the death bed. Nothing criminal or Earth shattering…yet. I regret not spending more time with my spouse and kids, I regret drinking away my younger years and disappointing my parents. So when the funeral comes, and the family requests Amazing Grace, I keep the word “wretch” in, because the person who died usually does not want to be immortalized as a hero. The most they hope for is their faults to be forgiven. The final grace comes as we say goodbye not to the person we wish was our father/mother/sister/brother/friend, but who they really were, received into the arms of mercy of God, wretchedness and all.

Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. ‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.