Grace: A Memoir

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Topics: Spiritual Exploration & Practice. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Grace: A Memoir

  1. Review

    The author writes, “How on earth does a bright, capable, relatively normal middle-aged women end up in the ordained ministry?” The idea of being ordained came to her when she was approaching eleven years of age. At that time her only contact with an ordained person was The Reverend Lee Linderberger, who she describes as “foreign to me, ethereal, barely real.” She adds, “It must have been his otherness, and possibly the lace, that prompted me to say, ‘I’m going to be a minister.’” At the age of nineteen, she gave birth to her first baby and five years later to her second child. One year after that her second divorce was final and she was “finished with anything to do with God.” She remained single for six years and then married Fred Hayes, to whom her memoir is dedicated. Ten years into their marriage she presented herself as a candidate for the ordained ministry of the United Methodist Church . She writes, “I didn’t know I’d be the senior and sole pastor of a church and spend half of my time wondering what in the hell I was doing there, or that finally, on my next to the last Sunday in the pulpit, I’d realize that whether I ever pastored another church or not, for the rest of my life I’d be a minister, a person set apart above all else for the task of seeing and proclaiming the holy.” Grace is the story of her experience of becoming an ordained minister.

    Her initial experience of grace occurred when she was deliberating her “God-question – What if God were real? What then?” One day she was on her way back to work after picking up some dry cleaning. As she entered a four-lane highway and shifted into third her life was changed. She writes that “the roof of my car became transparent and a shaft of golden light bathed me in luminescence, and I could see each individual ray of gold even while the rays were surrounding and containing me. I started laughing, laughing loud, because you see, I now knew the answer: God was real.” If God was real she knew that she needed to be in church.

    Gradually she became involved in the life of several churches. At one of the churches she met Fred and in five months they were married. One day when she was at a church meeting, “somewhere in the middle of whatever discussions were going on,” she thought, “I’m supposed to go into the ordained ministry.” Then she reflected, “Me in divinity school? How was I going to get through? I’d never read the whole Bible, let alone had a class in religion. I couldn’t quote chapter and verse the way ordinary religious people did. I got the punch lines of dirty jokes. Could I really be the kind of person the church wanted?”

    She enrolled in Duke Divinity School . Her favorite study topic for two years was heresy. She excelled in preaching. She confronted and dealt with the condescending patriarchy of faculty and fellow students and struggled with her fear that the church was an “intellectual mausoleum.” But she managed to endure, was ordained, and assigned to a struggling church of 180 members as pastor. The first lesson she learned was how resistant some congregations are to change, even if what is involved is the purchase of new hymnals. She endured the trivia involved in the daily grind and glory of ministry. We read the haunting story of Chris Flynn who had a rare form of leukemia and how she ministered to him and his family. She shares her provocative sermons and arresting prayers. She describes her efforts to win the hearts of a community skeptical and resistant to a woman pastor, until fed up with the “petty stuff and power struggles” that went on in the church, and concluding that the most important person in her life was her husband, she decides to leave. She adds that “a major reason I was leaving the pastorate – a reason as important as having more energy for Fred and wanting more intellectual stimulation and thinking that God wanted me to do something else – was that I was tired of loving.”

    In the interim between her decision and the time of her leaving, she takes piano lessons and become enraptured. She writes, “I loved the piano because it let me concentrate on the physical, to forget for a little while that the physical, spiritual, and mental are an indivisible and holy trinity, to forget that young people die, to forget that people like me are a problem for the church.” As a whim, she decides to have her hair dyed purple, which she later calls an “outward and visible sign” that she was making choices for herself. No one in the congregation spoke of it when she preached at her final service before the new pastor was due to arrive. She said she was fine during the service “until she got to the ‘amen.’” She tells the congregation, Our time together has been precious. I said, Our time together has been holy. And then I said, and now I am going to cry. And then I did. I offered them the gift of my tears. Tears for the love that would have to be lived differently. Tears for the grief. Tears for the frustration. Tears for the grace.”

    She concludes her fascinating, provocative, angry, sensual, funny and grace filled memoir with these poignant words, “To breath, to laugh, to curse, to weep, to sit in the midst of perfect order, to stand in the midst of perfect chaos, to break bread, to eat three strawberries, to touch a piano’s keys, to kiss a lovers skin, to birth, to baptize, to bury, to live, to die – either it is all holy, or none of it is holy.

    And this I know. It is all holy.”

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