For a thousand reasons, very near to my heart, I find myself awakening to the poetry of U2’s “Grace.” Perhaps it is that today is Ash Wednesday, beginning days and weeks of repentant remembering the truest truths about me– in the words of Psalm 103, that I am dust.

For years now the song has been a line-in-the-sand for me. What Bono and his band are arguing, poets as they are, is that the universe is one way, and not another; that life is one way, and not another—that “Grace is not only the name of a girl, but of a thought that changed the world.”

Pressing the poetic point, the heart of the song is the contrast of karma with grace, setting forth the cosmic good news that we are not stuck. That things are not “just the way they are.” That things will not always be as they always will be. That the universe is not fundamentally indifferent to my deepest longings. Instead, grace “travels outside of karma”—and therefore as a human being I can make choices, and those choices transformed by grace –“makes beauty out of ugly things.” Even and especially me, dust that I am.

“What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings”

Those who know me well know that I have been an eager and long student of Vaclav Havel, seeing in him a man of unusual vision and courage. For reasons that grew out of his Czech history, and the politics of his life, he spent years living into the conviction that “the secret of man is the secret of his responsibility.” Paralyzed by history, there was no way forward. And so Havel gave himself to the political meaning of responsibility, of the ability to respond to the world around us. Simply said, we are not stuck.

As I watch the world, most of the time for most people, we do feel stuck, in moments and lives that we cannot get out of. Intuitive artist that he is, Bono “feels” that in the world all around him, and against the belief that karma is it, that things are as they are and always will be—unless there is grace. Transformation is not possible, “karma, karma” is the final truth—unless there is grace.

So on this first day of Lent, I long for grace. I long for the possibility that what seems to be true, is not true. That honest transformation of me and mine, of my life and the world, can happen…. making beauty out of ugly things. I long for that.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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