Mosaic of Grace – A Book Review
“Grace is disruption. When the worst has happened, grace says the worst thing isn’t the end. In positive disruption, grace challenges us to commit to ongoing transformation.”
It’s serendipitous James Prescott’s book, Mosaic of Grace, came my way in this particular season of my life.
The idea of grace has been nipping at my heels of late.
For most of my life, I never thought much about grace- not in terms of God, anyway. As I’ve shared before, I broke up with God when I was nine years old. It took over thirty years to bring me back to the table.
I think there are many reasons we struggle with the concept of grace. It’s kind of ephemeral, isn’t it? Especially given the way our culture is today. We’ve become convinced we need to prove our worth, earn our belovedness- and that makes sense, because every ad we see attempts to reinforce one message, “You are not enough. You are not enough. You are not enough.”
Grace is not contingent on our good behavior, we can’t strive for it, earn it, or lose it, because it’s extravagant, boundless, and not one of us deserves it. It’s completely unfair. That’s what makes it so counter-intuitive- and why some people describe grace as “scandalous.”
It’s also what makes it grace.
In Prescott’s book, he explores the nature of grace, how it plays out in our lives, and what our role in it is. I’d never heard anyone posit that we humans have a role in grace before- only that we are its recipients. That alone piqued my interest, the notion that we have some agency in the way grace plays out in our lives.
“I didn’t comprehend grace
until I asked God to love me
to wholeness and not to pieces.”
Early in the book, the author explains the title. He talks about the Japanese art of kintsugi, also know as kintsu kuroi. I was all in at that point. I mean, I have an entire other blog based around the concept of making things beautiful at the broken places. I love the notion of God’s grace being the gold that mends the broken pieces of our lives. Grace as a binding agent. As the author points out time and time again, though- that only happens when we acknowledge our brokenness and surrender the pieces to God. If we refuse to admit we’re broken, or we continue to clutch the shards of our pain, our failure, and our harms, they will go unrepaired.
When I was working in Special Ed, we were required to get trained in de-escalation and handling adverse behaviors. I found it fascinating. We learned so many different things – everything from tactics to prevent an escalation, to how to best free your hair from an enraged kid’s death-grip.
There were a couple of things I took away from that training that I think about frequently- I mean, aside from the hair tip. One of them was this: There comes a certain point in any escalation when there’s no walking it back. The person is so undone, so far gone, the only thing you can do is to let it play out. Anything done to forestall it after the episode has gone past that point will surely lead to another escalation, and another, and another. The only answer is to let the cycle play through to the end. To exhaustion.
That takeaway applied to one of my favorite and most challenging students, and also eventually, profoundly, to me.
He was sweet and funny, and smart. On paper, he was considered non-verbal, but our team didn’t think so. Most people just didn’t speak his language. He sure did understand a lot, and he generally let us know what he wanted us to know- you just needed to pay attention, is all. We adored him.
He would escalate many times a day, and it was hard. When he did, he would hit and throw things, sometimes he would bang his head on the wall or the ground.
Once he’d reached that tipping point, we needed to just let it play out. Keep ourselves safe, keep other students safe, keep him safe if we could. When we were in that space, when he was raging and crying and striking out, I had one thing that I said to him, verbatim, over and over, every time.
“When you are ready, I will help.”
He’d scream and collapse, throw punches in the air, cry. It was awful to watch. I am certain it was even more awful to be in it.
Eventually, he’d wear himself out. The cycle of escalation would run its course and he’d exhaust himself. He’d surrender.
He’d get quiet. I’d give it a minute to make sure he wasn’t faking me out. He’d peek at me tentatively- as if to say, “You’re still here? Are you mad at me?”
I’d smile and say, “Are you ready?” And he would say one of the few phrases he could articulate…
Then he’d smile, pop up off the floor, and we’d carry on. We’d do the work.
I was ALWAYS ready for him to do the work and succeed, but I needed to wait for his willingness.
I think that is EXACTLY what God’s grace is like.
“Grace confronts us with the truth of who we are. It strips us bare and challenges us to change. It tells us we are not condemned, but that we are loved unconditionally,
just as we are.
And then, most importantly, grace says we are loved way too much to stay as we are.”
I think that’s precisely how it was when I was in the worst of my alcoholism. If we think of someone’s increased drinking as an escalation of addiction, then the playing it through to the end, the exhaustion, is rock bottom. I was on the ground, throwing punches in the air, fighting an unwinnable battle, and God was just waiting for me to be done. The grace was ALWAYS there, the willingness was not.
Recovery begins where our exhaustion, our surrender, our willingness meets God’s grace.
When we hear of someone falling prey to or losing a battle with something akin to one of our own struggles, one of the first things you hear people say is, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I have to say, you’d be hard pressed to find a phrase that gets my back up more than that one. Not because I don’t believe in God or in grace, but because I do. Deeply.
I think there’s an underlying implication that the difference between the person lost to…you name it- addiction, suicide, drunk driving, lung cancer…whatever- is that God has granted you, in particular, some sort of “stay” of grace. The problem with this is, it presumes that grace is a pie and not all of us gets a slice- or if we do, they’re unequal.
I just fundamentally do not believe that for one single second- in fact, I find that notion reprehensible. If that were true, that would be a very small god, indeed.
God’s grace. Our willingness. Of the two, only our willingness is in question.
Grace is tricky to write about. I think we all have a personal experience with grace, and we don’t all understand it in the same way. What the author does so successfully is to give examples of the way God’s grace and his own willingness have converged to work change in his life. My favorite writers are the ones who understand the power of vulnerability and “me too.” What James Prescott does so beautifully throughout the book is offer up examples of where his own pain and failure were transformed by God with candor and, well, grace.
Do yourself a favor and check out this book. You can order it here. James Prescott also has an amazing podcast, Poema, that you can check out here.
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