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There, But For The Grace Of God, Go I


The English reformer and martyr John Bradford is first credited with using this expression. The phrase “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford,” was used by him while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, each time he saw criminals being led toward their execution on the scaffold. Bradford was eventually burned at the stake in July of 1555, but this proverbial saying survived its author, and after being slightly altered, has since been used by believers and nonbelievers alike for centuries.

I have always loved the expression, and more than once in my life I have witnessed tragedy, like John Bradford did, and whispered those words to myself. But I’ve come to realize that life is a bit of a lottery, or maybe a roll of the dice, and “There but for the grace of God go I” might easily be interposed with “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.” John Bradford was the perfect example of this. The bear eventually ate him, but it is recorded that he went to his death in sanguine fashion, and told the fellow martyr who was joining him, “Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!”

I think, in life, you have to be grateful for your wins and as accepting as possible of your losses, and I know, without question, that’s easier said than done. And sometimes I think we need to understand that we can be an element in “the Grace of God” for someone else as well – becoming a part of the universal tapestry that binds us all together – simply by acting or reacting positively to situations. I like the sense of being in tune with a universal tapestry. It’s a feeling of not simply living in this world, but being an innate part of the great weave.

I’m reminded of the time I saw that my cat had captured a huge green and gray moth with mottled, translucent wings. The cat held that poor, exquisite creature captured in its paws, pinning it against the ground. He would release it just enough to let it struggle a few inches, then pounce on it again. I couldn’t help myself. I went over, grasped the cat by the scruff of the neck and gently took the moth away. To my surprise, as I opened my fingers the brilliant creature arched into the air, spinning upward in a dizzying spiral. His wings widened as he gathered control, and he became cool and magnificent. He headed outward toward the trees at the edge of the yard, then abruptly turned back at me, and circled my head, before dashing away. For a moment I was engulfed by the spirit that binds all things together in this great weave. I suddenly, unequivocally, knew that no gift is ever forgotten in the records of life. I know I have mentioned this before, but it was a defining moment.

I think what I’m saying is, we all have opportunities to be an element in the grace of God, and while there are no guarantees in the lottery of our own lives, we are given an opportunity to become part of God’s grace for others. And who knows, maybe someone’s keeping score somewhere. It’s a thought…

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