"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 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?
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 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."
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:
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.