Saturday, 20 September 2014

Living in Grace

I recently came across the following“More Than We Deserve” by Robert R Walsh it is taken from his book of meditations “Noisy Stones” got me thinking and feeling and re-membering

"I heard the Second Brandenburg Concerto played in honour of Bach’s 300th birthday, and I was swept away. I remembered a story about the people who send messages into outer space. Someone suggested sending a piece by Bach. The reply was “But that would be bragging.”

Some say we get what we deserve in life, but I don’t believe it. We certainly don’t deserve Bach. What have I done to deserve the Second Brandenburg Concerto? I have not been kind enough; I have not done enough justice; I have not loved my neighbour, or myself, sufficiently; I have not praised God enough to have earned a gift like this.

Life is a gift we have not earned and for which we cannot pay. There is no necessity that there be a universe, no inevitability about a world moving toward life and then self-consciousness. There might have been…nothing at all."

Since we have not earned Bach – or crocuses or lovers – the best we can do is express our gratitude for the undeserved gifts, and do our share of the work of creation."

...It really got me thinking...

The Sufi mystic Rumi wrote:

"Something opens our wings.

Something makes boredom and hurt disappear.

Someone fills the cup in front of us.

We taste only sacredness."

...The something or someone I believe is Grace...

Grace is one of those words that has kept on cropping up in conversations these last few weeks. It has got me thinking about what it might mean to me personally. What do I think of when I hear the word Grace? What does it mean to live in a state of Grace? What does it mean perhaps to die in a state of Grace?

Grace is something I often think of at this time of the year, later September early October. It was this time of year a long, long time ago when something began to change within my experience of life, something I will never understand…something that when I re-member always brings a smile to my face…a smile that comes unbidden...

When I speak of Grace I mean than something that exist beyond the confines of ourselves, that something more that makes life real, special and alive. That something that exists beyond our individual efforts that makes our efforts almost effortless. I have noticed that when I live in a Graceful state life does indeed seem effortless. Indeed when life seems a slog or a struggle it is precisely then that I feel blocked off from the Grace that surrounds me. Grace seems to exist in the spaces of life, therefore when I am blocked it seems that there are no spaces where Grace can thrive and live. To live in a Graceful state is to trust in that which exists in those spaces and allow it to energise our lives. Over the years I have learnt to trust in this when the hard and dark times have struck. It is Grace that keeps me moving forward.

Grace is the “Wow!” of life that can energise us if we would but trust in it. It is Grace that gives us a sense of belonging to life itself. When I began to live in Grace I became fully a part of life.

Now there are those who will no doubt claim that what I speak of is not Grace at all. That I am just trying to re-invent the English language. Well I wouldn’t be the first now would I?

Etymologically speaking Grace is related to thankfulness, certainly in the Latin languages. Think of the Spanish “gracias”, the Italian “grazie and Latin “gratia”. Both grace and gratitude are linguistically linked. One step beyond is the Latin word “gratus” which means pleasing and from which words like gratifying and gratuity are formed. On the other side of the coin comes the phrase “persona non grata” which means an unwelcome person. Likewise a person who has fallen from grace may be known as a disgrace.

Now in traditional Christianity Grace is concerned with God receiving us, forgiving our sins and redeeming us through the death of his son Jesus on the cross. In many ways it was arguments over Grace that led to the Reformation. Martin Luther taught that Grace cannot in any way be obtained by a person or purchased. Luther was protesting against the Church doing just this as it was selling indulgences. Luther taught that Grace is a gift of God, freely given regardless of merit, due to the sacrifice of Jesus. That said Grace has been understood in other ways throughout human history. It is not merely the domain of Luther and or traditional Christianity

“The Grace of God” is said to be a freely given gift of spirit that is unearned and undeserved; something that comes to us, from beyond ourselves. You can’t touch it, but you can know it. You could say that grace is a favour or perhaps a fortune that comes to us unbidden. It does not come because we have done anything to deserve it or not deserve it, it just comes. The part we can play is in recognizing it when it comes and making the most of what it offers. Life itself is probably the ultimate of graces. Think about it we did absolutely nothing to deserve the gift of life itself, in all its joy and suffering, in all its blessings and curses.

The Sufi mystic Rumi wrote

"You are so weak. Give up to grace.

The ocean takes care of each wave

til it gets to shore.

You need more help than you know."

I have heard it said that Grace is like water in that it flows and moves over and under an obstacle. So maybe I am wrong in thinking I can block myself off from it, although it does feel like that at times. Maybe I am never actually blocked from it I just lose my awareness of it. This brings to mind some of my favourite words from Psalm 139

"Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.

12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee."

So it would seem that Grace is something you just can’t avoid. It is always there, that said there is a part that we must play. As Ramakrishna said “The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail.” It is our task I believe to receive the wind and the waters in the right way.

You see Grace isn’t just going to come in and save us, to take our material troubles away.It is not going to change the natural world, just for us. Just look at the world at our lives, this just doesn’t seem so now does it?

I believe that grace works in and through us; that it comes to life in and through us when we live in a “State of Grace”. While we need not do anything to deserve it, we must do a great deal to bring it to life. As the Buddhist Joanna Macy observed “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” Yes it exists in those spaces between our lives and we experience it as it works through our lives, encouraging others to engage with it too. To dance in the spaces as the music plays.

The Unitarian and Process Theologian Henry Nelson Weiman, while rejecting traditional notions of God, did believe that there was a process which he observed had the capacity to transform us into beings capable of doing good, that can enable us to live up to our ideals and therefore relieve us from what some have described as the meaningless despair of our lives. He called this process “Creative Interchange”. He believed that this “Creative Interchange” comes alive as individuals or groups bring new meanings to life and that as it comes to life the richness of the world expands and a deeper sense of integration occurs. For Weiman this was Grace.

James Luther Adams expanded on these ideas believing that this creative power finds its “richest focus” when we work together to serve the divine reality and bring to birth freedom and justice in our world. He believed that God transforms us with “a love that ‘cares’ for the fullest good of all.” It is this then that compels us to act with it in service and thus re-create Grace.

I see real truth in both Weiman’s and Adam’s view of Grace, they help me make sense of my own experiences.

Grace is not about the things we receive in life. We have all been given life, the ultimate free gift. Grace is about what we do with the gift we have been given; Grace is what we create from what we have been given; Grace is what we bring to the table of life with this life we have been given. My dear friend Rev Jane Barraclough, who died earlier this year, explains this beautifully in the following words:

“We can choose to receive the gift with gratitude or we can decide it is never enough for us, or we can decide that we receive what we receive in life because we somehow deserve it. The last has always been a favourite among those most privileged in society. Those with an overpowering sense of their own entitlement to all the good things in life are also often the most difficult to satisfy. Those who can live their lives in a state of gratitude are more likely to know when they have enough.

To experience grace we have to be open to the possibility of its existence. The winds of grace may always be blowing but we need to have our sails up if we are to make any headway.”

We can experience the grace present in life if we are open to it, if we would just let go of the need to control, to open our clenched fists just a little and dance with it in the spaces that contain life. We just need to pay attention, to notice it in life and in the lives of those who live in a Graceful state. You see all life can become a disclosure of Grace. We can experience it in every moment of life. In the wild embrace of one we hold most dear, in those flocks of wild geese that fly overhead, in an act of reconciliation and forgiveness and in a selfless act as we give of ourselves to life.

May we all live our lives in a state of Grace.

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