A Grace Too Powerful to Name

Mike Birbiglia has touted his ability to make any awkward situation more awkward, but I […]

Tim Peoples / 11.15.16

Mike Birbiglia has touted his ability to make any awkward situation more awkward, but I think I win. Not long ago, I reply-all’d to a church discussion an a-propos-of-nothing question about how to take hold of grace. I immediately regretted it, because it was an unanswerable question. I know that divine forgiveness is, in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words, “a grace too powerful to name.” It can’t be summed up in an email.

Sometimes, though, it can be expressed in a song. The latter quote comes from “It’s Quiet Uptown,” a pivotal song in the musical Hamilton wherein the titular character mourns the death of his son, a tragedy for which Alexander bears significant responsibility. The song has been re-released recently as part of the side-project The Hamilton Mixtape, with Kelly Clarkson providing vocals.

The new rendition rearranges the music and changes some of the lyrics so that it becomes a story about unnamed parents grieving the loss of an unnamed son. The result is a song far more powerful than the original, because it reinforces one of Miranda’s key insights in Hamilton: “You have no control over who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” We can try all we want to uphold whatever form of law we pledge allegiance to, but our lack of control over the sin inside us and other people can bring us to fear and tragedy. In such moments, we need a grace too powerful to name. This is true in the musical; “It’s Quiet Uptown” marks the beginning of the end for Alexander Hamilton’s ambition and life. The song also portrays the reconciliation of Alexander to his wife Eliza, who was so recently shamed by her husband’s sex scandals–which, it must be noted, contributed to their son’s death:

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There’s a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we could never understand
We push away the unimaginable
They’re standing in the garden
Standing there side by side
She takes his hand
It’s quiet uptown
Forgiveness, can you imagine?
Forgiveness, can you imagine?

I pray that I might accept the grace too powerful to name, the forgiveness that I cannot imagine offered today and always by God through Jesus. Amen.