Grace Westfall, ‘FF01
Graduate of Vanderbilt University
The one with the cream cardigan taught me to delight in and embrace my own mess.
I am now a little quicker to smile. The one with boots made for the rain taught me how to honestly show up for myself. I hope I am a little more open. The one with the mullet taught me to stay awake to the world around me. I want to cross every threshold with presence and find rest there. The one who had an affinity for figs taught me to rise joyfully and with thanksgiving. I pick up my dragging feet, get on my toes and act my way into a new feeling. The one whose imagination soars far above what the eye can see taught me to dance and dream and approach everything with curiosity. I hope I look a little longer at the world around me.
In four months we’ve navigated new beginnings over and over again, and I have picked up lessons along the way from my newest friends. Welcome to Franklin, Tennessee where life has been flipped on its head and strangers have become roommates and visitors became hosts. So how do we stay grounded in the hustle of it all? We pick up pieces of those with whom we interact, collecting threads of wisdom and mercy whenever and wherever we can because we will never stop moving, but we might get caught in the web of grace set before us to at least slow us down. As we invest our lives in learning the life of Christ on Thursdays in class, we have also learned to invest in the lives of others, the anchors of that very web I hope to fall into. To do this, we have to stay awake.
As souls in human skin, we wake up with the sun and fall asleep when it, too, passes below the horizon. What we know about God, though, is that the day began in the evening. Genesis 1:8 says clearly “and there was evening and there was morning, the first day,” and it goes on to repeat this pattern five more times. More importantly, our life really begins in the darkest hour the world has ever witnessed as the cross pierced the ground, crushing the serpents head, securing our victory. Our biggest victory is recognized in the break of day, before the sun rises as faithful women with oils in hand visit the hole in the earth to find it empty, without a body to anoint. Here, an echo of Eden presents itself with the rise of the sun as Jesus stands in the Garden with a woman, proclaiming a new, restored creation has come and is still coming. This is not only a biblical pattern founded in the beginning of time as we know it but a pattern that persists in the Hebrew tradition.
As souls in human skin, we sleep. Eugene Peterson puts it this way,
“We go to sleep, and God begins his work. As we sleep He develops his covenant. We wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action. We respond in faith, in word. But always grace is previous. Grace is primary. We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn. Evening: God begins, without our help, his creative day. Morning: God calls us to enjoy and share and develop the world he initiated. Creation and covenant are sheer grace and there to greet us every morning.”
As Creator God, before there was light, there was darkness, and He began the making in the absence of the day. It was in the cover of night that Daniel rested safely in the den with lions, leaving unscathed at the break of day because of God, our Deliverer (Daniel 6:19). Staying awake is two-fold. It is both the not falling asleep to the work of the narrative arc of redemption, as in the garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James and John, and it is the wakeful revelatory dreams of Joseph, Daniel, Solomon, Jacob, Laban, Samuel, Joseph, and John.
As souls in human skin, rest is vital to be awake to the new mercies God has spoken over us. We can get swept away by the unrestrained and untamable swell of knowledge hidden in the Word, or we can be caught in threads of grace spun out by our Creator whose web is wider than we imagine. So I’m learning over and over from my friends, also souls walking – but often running – in human skin to stay awake and absorb their little daily wisdoms.
Who are these people who have taught me such profound measures of grace? Preschoolers. Staying awake means seeing pom poms glued onto graham cracker houses as both a piece of abstract art and a means by which we carefully and thoughtfully create experiences for a child who is learning to pinch thumb and pointer finger together for what I might classify as a normal, daily maneuver. Staying awake means disciplining a child who cannot verbally disobey because that respects their dignity. It means accepting “I’m sorrys” and hearing every quiet moment of confidence – and championing them. Staying awake means being caught in webs of grace because preschoolers may be better kingdom builders than some Bible scholars. Staying awake doesn’t mean become exhausted and numb. Staying awake means beating through the waves of COVID-19 (yes, I tried to get through this without mentioning it, but here we are), holding our breath through the unzippering of our nation through an election, and pretending momentarily that things will go back to normal.
But life didn’t go back to normal after the first advent, and we wouldn’t want it to. When we stay awake, we might just realize our life is a movement from advent to advent, and normal was never something to be attained anyway. With the first advent, the people who were walking in darkness saw a great light, as promised in Isaiah 9:2. The beginning of a new day, the sunlight that pierces the night, brought our first advent. The first advent mirrors our deepest longing in the place no one sees – no one but God – a longing for the break of a new day.
Malcolm Guite reminds us in Waiting on the Word,
“Advent falls in winter, at the end of the year, in the dark and cold, but its focus is on the coming of light and life, when the Ancient of Days becomes a young child and says, ‘Behold I make all things new.’”
A young child says, ‘Behold,’ and we listen, staying awake. So, I’m listening to those preschool children around me, the voices saying, ‘behold,’ the voices extending me grace, the voices carrying the Kingdom of Heaven.