An analogy for grace

Joshua Bell, the renowned violinist who once posed as a typical subway busker for a Washington Post magazine article, is back underground again.

The question posed by the original 2007 story was: “If a world-famous musician and his $3 million fiddle brought some of history’s most beautiful music to a rush-hour crowd [in a DC metro station], would people stop and listen? ‘In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?,’ the story wondered.”

The answer was, “Not really.” Twenty-seven people stopped. One thousand and seventy walked on by.

Now, seven years later, Bell is going to give it another try. The Post writes, “At 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, Bell will perform for 30 minutes in the main hall of Union Station. He’ll trade the baseball hat [he wore in 2007] for a crisp black shirt, hidden cameras for media coverage and busy commuters for what he hopes will be a large and engaged audience there to hear a program of Mendelssohn and Bach.”

I am sure the crowds will be bigger and more appreciative, but it seems unlikely the music will be more beautiful, and this has me thinking about grace. We take as a theological given that we don’t deserve grace, but what we need to reckon with is the fact that we don’t recognize it. It wears the wrong clothes and shows up in the wrong places at the wrong times. It comes in the guise of people we generally avoid. As a result, we fail to see it for what it is. We take the word of others–experts, advance teams–for what grace is and what it isn’t, when we must pay attention and when we can walk on by. Perhaps we don’t trust ourselves to recognize and respond to grace when we see it or hear it. Or perhaps life is constructed in such a way that grace needs references and a spot on our calendar before we can give it its due.

Henry James once urged readers: “Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.” This is among the few spiritual disciplines that still make sense to me.

Here’s grace in the form of Joshua Bell:

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