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Grace, Out of Order

I got an email from U2 this morning. Well, from their marketing department, to be precise. I’m on a mailing list and am a “verified fan.” Which feels terribly special and important. They’re opening a residency in Las Vegas this fall (without Larry, which feels weird). They’re releasing a new album called Songs of Surrender on Friday full of “re-recorded and reimagined tracks from across the band’s catalog” (which I also feel ambivalent about, based on the first few tracks they’ve released). Some of this stuff has the faint whiff of a band that is past their best-before date and is trying a little too hard to hang on. But I could be wrong. It’s probably not wise to bet against a band with the staying power of U2 (or which contains an ego the size of Bono’s). The Vegas thing might be amazing, and Songs of Surrender might be better than I expect.

At any rate, the email got this verified fan reminiscing a bit. Last night on a drive home from the airport, U2’s song Grace came on. As I’ve written before, it’s among my favourites, more because of what was going on in my life at the time of its release than any intrinsic merits of the song itself. It’s on the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind which came out in 2001, the year we adopted our twins. This album was the announcement that U2 was back, after a brief sojourn out into the experimental wilderness of Zooropa and Pop. With this album, U2 exploded back into the mainstream. And its understated last track, Grace, was my own personal soundtrack for the explosion of two little lives into our world.

As I listened to the song driving in the dark last night, I pondered how the intervening decades have changed how I hear the song. Back in 2001, it was the last lines of the song that lodged themselves into my soul:

Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty
In everything

Grace finds goodness in everything

These narrated our hopes and dreams for our family, certainly—out of the “ugliness” of infertility, we now had this beautiful thing. But I was also embarking on an academic career that would ultimately lead me to study philosophy and theology and eventually land me in the church. I believed (and believe still) that the grace of God was weaving its way through our story and my story and leading us into a beautiful future. I was in my late twenties and all kinds of things seemed to be opening up. There was much that was unknown, certainly, but goodness seemed to permeate everything. The last verse of Grace seemed to sum up a lot of how I was thinking and feeling at the time.

Two decades or so later, well… well, what? This is not going to be some story of how I was naïve and idealistic then and now I have been hardened into realism and resignation. No, not that. But things happen in a few decades. Good things and bad things. Delightful things and destructive things. Things expected and unexpected. This is how life goes for everyone. This is part of what it means to make our way in the world. One does not stay the same, nor do those around us. Nor, indeed, does the world. Songs, like scripture, speak to us in different ways at different times and for different reasons.

At this stage of life, I found myself spending more time on those first few lines:

She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain

A few decades is enough time to accumulate some blame and some shame. To be forced to bear some things (deserved or not). To do some things and to leave some things undone. To fail and to flail. To encounter limitations. To act gracelessly too often and to experience grace in deeper ways than one could have imagined. Perhaps this is all a elliptical way of saying that grace seems somehow deeper and harder and truer and more desperately necessary in my forties than in my twenties. This, too, is probably just what it means to make our way in the world. One does not stay the same.

But grace, perhaps does. We may only come to understand and inhabit it in stages, but it is always there, like God. Always underwriting and validating our best efforts, our highest aspirations, our very existence. Always making beauty out of ugly things.

Way back in 2001, we were given the ability to choose our kids’ first names while their biological parents picked their middle names. The middle name chosen for our daughter was Grace.

It’s the name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world.

Yes, it has. It does. And it will. This I believe. It will keep inviting us into its depths, keep pushing us to extend and receive it. To bear it, if we’re able (or even if we’re not). To take the blame and remove the stain. And in so doing, to change the world.


The image above is called “It Is Well With My Soul” by Michelle Vandyk from the 2022-23 Christian Seasons Calendar. It the image for Lent that has been hanging on my wall for the past few weeks. It it is not an image that speaks obviously or unambiguously of grace. But then grace isn’t always obvious or unambiguous, is it?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. There is likely a special place in musical hell reserved for THEM4.

    The singer, the guitarist, the bassist and the drummer are easily the least talented collection of musicians to ever gain massive noteriety. I mean guy, the Edge (I assume he means on the boundry between incompetence and redundancy) literally has one lick that he loops, delays, echoes and repeats. He plays the effect pedals with his feet better than he plays the actual instrament in his hands. The singer sings as flat and as off key as his namesake, Sonny Bono, who was at least was gracious enough to entertain us with good humour and a stunning wife. The bassist and the drummer, ok by comparison to the other 2, come off like Entwhistle and Moon but truth be told, there are only as competent as your typical bar band rythym section.

    U2 is to music as a Big Mac is to food. Yeah they both sell a shit-ton but regular consumption of either just gives you gas and brain fog.

    This is their month so if you insist on Irish and for some shallow vaneer of a saint’s spirituality (just like the bands lyrics) and the glory of all things alcoholic, try Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy or Van Morrison.

    If your gonna destroy yourself with Jameson’s and turd coloured beer at least let your dirge be a worthy one.

    March 14, 2023
    • Pithy sarcasm, Yes. Honest spiritual reflection, no. At least I know your rules. If you ever have an attack of conscience, you can always sell out to, Elon Musk.

      March 19, 2023
      • So on a more important note, why do you continue to languish in obscurity? You have great gifts and you have cultivated them well. You could literally be one of God’s voices for this generation, yet from where I stand I see you lacking the courage of your convictions. The audience you seem to be seeking will literally, “turn and tear you to pieces” should your work ever acquire noteriety in it’s present form.

        Reach out to Dr. Jordan Petersen, send him some of your work. Offer him your services. He’s working on creating a new, sorely needed, accredited, post secondary education program. Your voice is needed. Stop spinning your wheels here.

        March 20, 2023
  2. Rick #

    Good song, Ryan. I needed to hear it.

    March 14, 2023
    • Glad to hear it, Rick.

      March 15, 2023
  3. Bono’s memoir Surrender is worth reading; might give some good context for this tour. And it’s full of grace; interesting, given Bono’s big ego and hot temper..

    March 15, 2023
    • I’ve read it. Yes, full of grace.

      March 15, 2023
  4. Elizabeth #

    Grace, out of order indeed.
    “Good things and bad things. Delightful things and destructive things. Things expected and unexpected. This is how life goes for everyone. This is part of what it means to make our way in the world. One does not stay the same, nor do those around us. Nor, indeed, does the world. Songs, like scripture, speak to us in different ways at different times and for different reasons.”

    This hits my heart full on. Thank you for this. On my drive into work this morning I listened to Grace for the first time. Poignant words and calming music. It was a spiritual moment during a red sunrise.

    A delightful thing kind of morning drive. *-)

    March 16, 2023
    • I’m so glad to hear about this moment, Elizabeth! Thank you for sharing.

      March 16, 2023

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