It matters a lot, the direction from which you approach Mamore Gap on the Inishowen Peninsula in Ireland.
Drive up from the west, and there’s a tangled series of switchbacks to negotiate—pretty much traditional road design for ascending a steep grade.
Advance from the east, and it’s essentially a ramrod-straight shot—taking you right up to the top of the 700-foot pass situated between a pair of 1,400-foot summits.
Mamore Gap is the heart of “Amazing Grace” country, so named because it overlooks Lough Swilly, the bay famed for providing John Newton and his shipmates safe harbor after a dreadful storm at sea in 1748.
Spared from the winds and crashing waves, Newton experienced a deep personal conversion. He gave up his profession as a slave trader, all the while marveling at the unmerited mercy he had received…his heart moved to praise God for the “amazing grace”…that “saved a wretch like me.”
Mary Magdalene, the early Christian saint whose feast we celebrate today, no doubt would have appreciated Newton’s lyrical turn of the phrase. Scripture tells us that Mary was among the most faithful of Jesus’ disciples. Like Newton, her life had been changed by a close encounter with the Lord: Indeed, from her “seven demons had gone out.”
The lives of these two holy people, Magdalene and Newton, help me to understand the value in encountering a few switchbacks along the way. Their stories remind me that the only necessary response to grace—indeed, the only possible one—is gratitude.
But there’s another lesson in spirituality available to us at Mamore Gap, I believe. And that lesson is this: We need not always take the circuitous route. Jesus also offers us a straight shot, right up the hill.
As we grow in our knowledge of the Lord…as I deepen my relationship with Jesus… it becomes easier to perceive how God’s grace is at work in my life.
I can make my ascent…simply by offering my assent.
And with my “yes”, I become like Mary Magdalene on that first Easter morning. My heart still, I am at last ready to recognize the Holy One’s loving and merciful voice.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.