Amazing Grace

I have been musing about this since I saw Fiona’s latest meditation with this title this week. Of course it is a very well known hymn sung in and out of church in many contexts. You may also be aware that its author John Newton had a very dubious and colourful life in all ways – as a drunk, a deserter; he was profane, he lied and cheated as well  taking part in the slave trade in the 1700’s. This was before his conversion to Christianity and his actual conversion was slow… oh so slow! He heard God speak to him first in a violent storm on a slave ship in the Atlantic Ocen and after that he had several revelations and profound engagements with with God through reading and life experiences. However, he still retained many of his old ways and it was actually years before he was ‘fully’ converted and left behind the last vestiges of his ‘wretched’ life. He once said of himself:

How industrious is Satan served. I was formerly one of his active undertemptors and had my influence been equal to my wishes I would have carried all the human race with me. A common drunkard or profligate is a petty sinner to what I was.

John Newton, 1778[3]

The words to ‘Amazing Grace’ were penned by Newton in 1773, probably to illustrate or compliment a sermon at a prayer meeting – we don’t really know. The words may or may not have related to his time as a slave trader – we also don’t know that for sure. What it does illustrate is that Newton was so totally aware of his own sin and wretched state before God that the title and opening line have true resonance as the only thing that can save him and all of humankind. As far as I am aware, there isn’t a statue to Newton in any significant place. If there were then, although I applaud the sentiment behind the pulling down of Edward Colston’s statue, I would be much more startled to see the same thing happen to Newton’s statue if it existed. To tear it down as if it never existed is to suggest that some human beings have no capacity for change and redemption in their lives and if we start to believe there is no salvation – even for the worst of humanity – then we are living in a much more fearful world than before. I do hope that the profound experience of God’s Grace for ALL humanity is  as real now as it was to Newton then. The irony of Newton’s lyrics is that part of history is that the song was adopted as a spiritual sung by black African slaves to engender strength, hope and encouragement. All of humanity stands under God’s Grace.

It is possible to wholeheartedly support the Black Lives Matter movement and campaign to stamp out racism and also to acknowledge that imperfect humanity needs redemption, grace and forgiveness to effect real change. We can’t just wipe things out without learning and we need historical examples of people who changed. It may have taken them some time, but they changed. If Saul had not responded to the vision of Christ he saw on the road to Damascus, we would not have the insightful theology into the human condition that we have today from Paul’s writings. He is another ‘wretched’ man who considered himself ‘the least of the disciples’. He changed, was redeemed and knew God’s Grace.

‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.’

Mandy’s Musings – a discovery

Hello everyone and Good Afternoon,

It’s lovely that we now have so many forums to communicate and browse. It certainly makes life interesting so I hope you can take some time to browse this new feature of our website. Read, comment and muse until your heart’s content!

I recently discovered something quite startling about a member of my family. My brother, it seems, is a bona fide published author with his first novel out there in the literary world. I discovered this quite recently, on a socially distanced visit to Nottingham to visit my mother on her 82nd birthday. As the conversation went on, it became clear that my brother wished he had been more careful with his words when he was met with his enthusiastic, somewhat incredulous (and slightly envious) sister who quizzed him relentlessly on how he had done this, when, how it had been received, why he had written it etc. With relief, he told me that I would never find his book as he had used a very obscure, and feminine, pseudonym. Never one to dismiss a challenge, I set about the task of researching ancient Greek and Welsh names that had some intrinsic connection to his own Irish name. It took several hours but I eventually found it and read the author’s interview, several reviews of his book and ordered my own copy which arrived yesterday. My brother said he didn’t mind if I read it as long as I paid for it and left a good review of it!

You can feel that you know someone really well, especially if they are a member of your family who you have lived and grown up with, but then at certain points in life you discover a new reality about that person that makes you see them in a new light. Today’s New Testament reading for Morning Prayer is the account of the Transfiguration from Luke’s gospel. Before their very eyes, Jesus was changed and they were confronted with a new reality. No wonder they kept silent afterwards, I imagine it took some time for all that new information to be processed. It is taking time for our minds to process new realities and live differently. Perhaps we are also seeing people in a new light; people we have not known before who  are serving folks in the community, or we have become aware of people’s vulnerabilities which were not apparent before. As well as the world confronting the new reality of Coronavirus and how that has changed lives, also today many people across the world are confronting an old reality – racism. Sadly, we still live in a world where the ugliness of racism is still around, and people’s lives are ruined by it. We’re all too aware of the inequalities and divisions that still exist between one human being and another and sometimes by our inactivity, we do nothing to change that. The transfiguration is all about change – from one reality into a new reality. Not to dismiss what was there before that was good but to reveal a new truth on top of it. My brother’s authorial vocation has revealed a new truth about him and, consequently, our relationship as brother and sister (since I wanted to be the writer!), Coronaviris has revealed a new layer of truth about who we are and what is essential to our lives and the Black Lives Matter movement has revealed an old and ugly truth that inherent racism still exists. Wouldn’t  it be wonderful if, going forward, a new truth is discovered; that we are all children of the same God who loves and protects us equally through his Son, Jesus Christ – or is that an old truth?

#Blackout Tuesday