Wednesday, May 29, 2013


A while back, I remember that we sang "Amazing Grace" at our contemporary service.  It was probably during Lent, maybe even on the Sunday in Lent that we hear the gospel reading about the man born blind.  Even though the hymn is in the hymnal, we printed the words in the worship folder, so that no one would have to look it up.

This, in and of itself, is not such an unusual event.  We do sing "Amazing Grace" on occasion.

But what I remember about this time is that later on, I found a discarded bulletin in one of the pews.  Before I could throw it away, I noticed that something was written on it.  Actually, something was written on the lyrics to the song, "Amazing Grace."  Someone had scratched out the word "wretch" in the line "that saved a wretch like me" and written in above it "soul."

This particular person, at least, didn't want to sing about being a 'wretch.'  And they cared enough to actually scratch the word out of their bulletin.

Though I don't know for sure, I think I can imagine why:  maybe this person has spent a few too many years considering herself just 'not good enough'.  Perhaps that's the message he heard, intentionally or unintentionally, all the while growing up:  you aren't smart enough, talented enough, holy enough, good-looking enough, popular enough.  You just don't measure up.  You're just a poor excuse for a human being.  And maybe she is just too tired of feeling like this is the way the church wants her to feel too.  Wretched.

I have to admit, it hits me again when I read the story from Luke, the one about the centurion who requests Jesus' healing for his slave.  "Lord, I am not worthy," he says.  Does he really have to grovel? Really?  Is that what he thinks it takes for Jesus to pay attention to him?  He isn't even fit to have Jesus come into his house?  Is it because he's a Gentile?  Because, later on, Zacchaeus is certainly 'good enough' to have Jesus come into HIS house, and he was a tax collector.  The wretch.

"Lord, I am not worthy..." the centurion said to Jesus.  Maybe he said it because he was a gentile, and he knew that he was not considered worthy by Jewish standards.  Maybe he said it because he thought that was what he was supposed to say.  Maybe he said it because he suddenly began to think about all the things he had done, or had left undone, all the things he had said, or left unsaid, the life he had lived and the lived he had failed to live, and there seemed a great distance between who he was and who he wanted to be.  Sometimes that happens, you know.  Especially when you are standing in the presence of Jesus.

You don't have to claim to be a 'wretch'.  You don't have to claim to be 'unworthy' or promise to be 'worthy'.  You don't 'have to' anything.'  All you do is stand in the presence of Jesus, honestly, and he says the word that bridges the distance between you.  All you do is stand in the presence of Jesus, being who you are, and he says the word.

He says the Word.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

Oh, Diane--that was lovely!

I confess that I won't sing that word either. I don't believe that we are wretches. I believe that we are beloved of God, and that the Augustinian/Puritan formulation that we are wretches and worms is pretty close to blasphemy. If we were all that, why would God care enough to have come in human form? Why not just blow it all up and start over and save Hirself a world of trouble?

(That doesn't mean, BTW, that I think we are all little saints underneath. I would be delusional if I believed that!)

Thanks for the beautiful reflection.


Diane M. Roth said...

It's interesting: I didn't put this in the essay, but I looked up the word "wretch" and found out it has too meanings: one being "miserable and unhappy" and the other "vile, despicable." I do think I think of myself as the first form of 'wretch' sometimes.

I don't know which definition John Newton was thinking of....

Diane M. Roth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diane M. Roth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zorra said...

Many years ago I was privileged to hear the great folk singer Odetta in concert. She began singing "Amazing Grace" a cappella, and sang, "that saved a soul like me," interrupting herself to declare firmly, "There are no wretches here."

Crimson Rambler said...

I remember a bathroom-wall graffito long ago -- someone had written "No Grils allowed", someone else had stroked out "Grils" and written in "Girls" above the line.
And a third hand had written underneath, "And what about us Grils?"

What about us wretches? Don't we get to sing?

Diane M. Roth said...

Crimson -- wretches an non-wretches alike can sing. I think that's the point, actually.

Crimson Rambler said...

sometimes... it can be very restful, for a wretch, to stop pretending one isn't.

Diane M. Roth said...

because we're not on facebook, I can't put a simple "like" on your comment, Crimson....

but I do.