I’ve been reading the same novel for way too many months. Kristin Lavransdatter is a sweeping epic of a novel: one woman’s life in 14th century Norway, from girlhood to death. Ultimately it’s the story of how the main character’s one tragic decision as a sixteen-year-old leads to a life of broken relationships (with her parents, her husband, her future children) and to great loss.
It’s also the story of how it doesn’t seem possible that the main character could ever have chosen otherwise. Her passion was too strong. Could she ever have made a better choice? And if she had, could she really have been happier?
I’m finally nearing the end of the 1168 pages. And I’m overwhelmed by its lack of redemption (at least at this point). Where is the mercy? Kristin Lavransdatter has been striving her whole life to undo the decision she made as a young woman. But she can’t. Her life has too many layers. When our sin braids itself into the lives of our children, the futures of our marriages, the history we share with our parents, the judgment of our community, we cannot rescue ourselves and we certainly can’t rescue those who have been shaped by our failed choices.
In order for redemption to be real, it has to be cosmic. It has to happen both inside and outside ourselves. And true personal redemption is always communal as well. It has to weave itself through my spirit and also through the spirits of those I’ve hurt.
And if we believe in Jesus, we believe that somehow that great cosmic redemption happens (is happening still…) on the cross. What in the world does that mean?
We all need story to teach us about grace.
There are moments when the concept of grace is beyond me. Who am I to ever understand it? Who am I to even claim to believe it?
But then, I long for it. I long for it in every story I encounter. I want something to rescue my hero from the throes of her own sin. I want good to prevail. I want our relationships to be made right, despite our faulty attempts at loving one another.
I saw Les Mis on Christmas night. My husband and I snuck away from my parents’ sleeping house and we sat next to each other and relived our first date ten years ago when we saw it on stage. And I couldn’t help but compare the story of the musical with the story I’m reading right now. In Les Miserables, despite all the darkness, all the destruction, all the suffering, mercy prevails. It is mercy that changes Jean Valjean’s life, not law, not even “justice.” And, because of that mercy shown to him, mercy (when it is accepted) prevails in the lives of every other relationship in his life.
Once a friend told me that we are either a blessing or a curse to every life we encounter. I wonder if that’s true sometimes. I wonder if I can really bless or curse the woman behind the counter at Trader Joes. I wonder if my presence makes that much of a difference in the life of my downstairs neighbor who can’t stand how noisy our kids are. I wonder if my reaction when my four-year-old screams at me with a chest full of anger really is shaping the man he’ll be in twenty years.
And then I ache, because I know it’s true. I know it matters how I bless, how I curse. All of this daily living and breathing and encountering matters.
I’m thinking about grace versus destruction. I’m thinking about what my life is braiding into the lives around mine—my children, my spouse, my family, my friends, the strangers I move past in my everyday. Am I letting the Spirit bring healing to the broken places? Am I living like grace is real?
Do I believe in redemption?
Is Jesus more than a lower-case story? Am I living like it is the Great Story, the rescue big enough to bring wholeness to the lives I’ve undone by my sin? Am I living like my rescue has come, like it is big enough to braid grace into the sharp corners of my life, into the sharp corners of yours?
Photo: My own of Daniel Buren’s “Sulle vigne: punti di vista“