Empty-chair Grace

from the spring/summer 2016 issue of Reflections magazine.

This article in PDF format Empty chair Grace 


By Marjorie George

The first question was: “For what are you grateful?” The second question was: “What do you most fear?”

Five of us had gathered in the late afternoon for an overnight retreat at chapel house on the grounds of the Bishop Jones Center. After dinner, we had moved to one of the bedrooms in the old house where we were staying; the room has been turned into something of a small, cozy parlor appointed with some easy chairs, a large ottoman, and an old wardrobe that holds liturgical vestments.

We had pulled the easy chairs into a circle such that we all could put our feet up on the ottoman in the center, and we settled in for some thoughtful reflection.

One of us posed two questions – “For what are you grateful?” and “What do you most fear?” Rather than deal with them, my lazy mind began to wander around the room, noting the desk under the window that holds a guest registry book, and wondering how old the wardrobe really is. One of us had had to leave early, and now my eyes landed on her empty chair in our circle.

I took in the presence of the empty chair merely as an observation: “Huh, empty chair.” But in that split second before my brain could catalog what my eyes had perceived, I recognized possibility: What is the significance of the empty chair? Would I see it as the “empty chairs at empty tables” grief of Les Misérables? Or would I liken it to the Jewish tradition of having an empty chair and an empty cup at the Passover table in the hope that Elijah will come to occupy it and announce the coming of the Messiah?

A larger question emerged: Metaphorically, would I invite hopeful gratitude to take up space in my head and heart? Or would I give over that space to the memory of past wounds that threaten the edges of my future?

The word gratitude comes from the Latin gratus, which has the same etymological root as the word grace. When I am grateful, I must acknowledge the presence of grace.

In my car I always carry two canvas sports chairs — the kind that fold up and fit neatly into a bag you can sling over your shoulder. Because you just never know when you might come across a grandchild on a football field or playing soccer, and you ought to be prepared to sit right down and take it all in. Maybe I should add a third chair in the same anticipation of grace.

Perfect love casts our fear, says 1 John (4:18). I would guess perfect gratitude makes way for grace.

In this issue of Reflections our writers reflect on their own experiences of recognizing God’s grace. Sometimes that’s in suffering, sometimes in the visit of a determined dog, sometimes when Easter eggs produce more than chocolate candy.

We invite your own reflection of God’s grace in your life and your consideration of how to respond to it in gratefulness.

Find an easy chair and enjoy this issue.

meg photo for web


Marjorie George is editor of  Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline.  Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.



For further reflection


Well, for what are you most grateful?

What do you most fear?

To read the entire spring/summer 2016 issue of  Reflections, or to read more articles from the issue, go here.

From The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas

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