Alphabet of Grace

My son finished Kindergarten earlier this Spring. He learned numbers, letters, hand-raising, and single file lines, all with varying degrees of excitement. Throughout the year my wife and I watched him slowly learn the alphabet. In the fall, the four letters of his name ranged between one and four inches tall, and appeared to be stumbling down a hill visible only to him. Concentration creased his forehead as he wrote, and the letters b and d were interchangeable. 

I'd imagine the conversation between his brain neurons resembled something like this: 

These letters are curious little creations, not only does my hand have to learn their sharp curves and abrupt stops. But sometimes these funky shapes hit a growth spurt and they’re supposed to be really tall. But I’m not really sure when a letter should be a giraffe or a shrimp. I find it easier to split the difference. 

But that’s not all!  My ears also have to learn sounds. People keep asking me, “What does g say?” And I want to reply, “I’ve been listening all morning and he hasn’t said a friggin word.”  

There was an almost palpable magic to watching him learn to read. His eyes would squint as he leaned his head closer to the page. The electrical energy from his firing synapses all but glowed. Sounds were sputtered and blended in brave attempts. There on our graying living room couch, surrounded by unfolded laundry and scattered toys, I witnessed something too good to remain hidden.

Towards the end of the school year he came home with mini 4 page books folded neatly into quarters. Their rhyming strategy would grump Dr. Seuss, but they were simple and had a pile of easily soundable words, usually three to four letters long. We'd sit down and read about Ned and Jan and Shep (five dollars to anyone who knows a real human named Shep) and their short adventures with their sleds and slugs. 

He’s memorized a few of the books. With others he concocts the words purely based upon the pictures, as if the words were suggestions. But the times where my smile can’t help but crack are when he methodically sounds out the letter of a new word. The word lost now has a syllable for each letter. Then each sound is glued slowly together not just by his tongue, but often with his entire mouth, until the Einsteinian moment strikes and the four sounds meld into one glorious familiar word. 

"Life itself can be thought of as an alphabet by which God graciously makes known his presence and purpose and power among us. Like the Hebrew alphabet, the alphabet of grace has no vowels, and in that sense his words to us are always veiled, subtle, cryptic, so that it is left to us to delve their meaning, to fill in the vowels, for ourselves by means of all the faith and imagination we can muster. God speaks to us in such a way, presumably, not because he chooses to be obscure but because, unlike a dictionary word whose meaning is fixed, the meaning of an incarnate word is the meaning it has for the one it is spoken to, the meaning that becomes clear and effective in our lives only when we ferret it out for ourselves."

-Frederick Buechner

My days feel filled with consonants. Events and moments that are mostly insignificant and unconnected, like mediating the 18th disagreement between my daughters, writing transactional emails, and devoting way too much time to wondering how long I can wait to text someone back before I’m a jerk. Extracting their significance feels like making a word using m, g, k, and w. 

But sometimes, I’m willing to sit with the jumbled mix of my day. My weariness can be an invitation instead of a symptom to numb. I pause and try to listen past entertainment’s clamor and efficiency’s din. I consider the day’s events: 

My daughter diligently practicing the piano.
The sprinkler system that needs fixing in four places. 
Our neighbor’s extensive plans to breed golden retrievers. 
My expired license plate registration that I can’t seem to update. 
My son proudly carrying his first lost tooth in a ziploc bag around the house. 

They seem nothing if not random. But sometimes I sound them out in search of God's ‘presence, purpose, and power.’ There’s mispronunciations and familiar memorizations, and attempts at interpretation. As I do, I realize that both my son and I are learning to read. 

Where in your day, week, or summer, might you ‘muster faith and imagination’ to read the events of your life in search of God’s presence?


Jesse French
Restoration Project Executive Director

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