Monday 20 May 2024

The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail

I have two friends who are writers, primarily comedy writers. I was chatting with one the other day, about life and everything, the things we have known and experienced as well as the spiritual aspects; we were talking about the gifts and talents that folk have, as well as other traits, some of the more difficult aspects of life and the burdens some folk have to live with. As we were walking and talking, whilst Molly played in the park, I said something that could easily have been taken the wrong way. I said that our mutual friend had a special gift, something I suspect she was born with. I then said that the friend I was walking with was talented, very talented, but that the other was gifted. What was interesting was they didn’t disagree or take offence. He agreed. Now what is particularly wonderful is how well the two of them work together. Her gift and his talent combined together create wonderful gifts for the world to share in.

Now of course my friend’s giftedness is not all that they are. Something I have noticed about gifted people is that they are often cursed with other challenges in life.

I was talking with another friend the other day who is a gifted singer. They were once a singer song writer but gave up that life. We were talking about singing and the blessings and curses of having perfect pitch. A person with perfect pitch can hear anything that is slightly out of tune, if it is it can really irritate. I know I get frustrated in myself when singing and anything goes slightly awry. I’m very sensitive to sound generally. I struggle with karaoke as terrible singing hurts my ears. Unfortunately, I cannot hide the pain from listening to the truly tone deaf. Very few people are actually tone deaf and very few have perfect pitch. Most people can sing, so long as they can hear and most people don’t get disturbed by those who are slightly off beam. I have one such friend who just cannot hear and I was recently reminded of his murdering of “Viva Las Vegas” which was utterly out tune and out of time. So much so it was hilarious. We were laughing about this the other evening at another friends 40th birthday celebration.

I love to sing, I love all kinds of singing. I am enjoying the birds again at the moment. My favourite of all time was the blackbird that lived on my roof. He sang to me and I to him. He raised my voice and I raised his. He was of course the greater singer. His is was the more perfect gift and a beautiful grace to me.

“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch alike me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

I have recently been gifted the beautiful grace of conducting and attending the wedding of both a friend and of course our youngest brother. They were wonderful experiences. While conducting my friend’s wedding I was taken back to another friends wedding from a few years ago. It was held in an Anglican church and I gave the blessing at the end I also sang the classic hymn “Amazing Grace” acapella, Something I have done several times on special occasions. I have sung it at several heartbreaking funerals and I still don’t fully know to this day how. I suspect that was a form of grace.

Amazing Grace is a classic hymn that has grown in popularity over the years. Some of the words can be challenging. That said it is one of those pieces that can send a shiver down my spine. The hymn itself may well be a grace.

Amazing Grace has been described as a classic. David Tracy claimed that classics are "those texts, events, images, persons, rituals and symbols which are assumed to disclose permanent possibilities of meaning and truth”. Amazing Grace certainly fulfills this requirement. It has been doing so for over two hundred years. It is quoted in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" It was adapted by Cherokee Native Americans during their forced migration, known as the trail of tears. It became and remains a favourite amongst the civil rights movement.

Amazing Grace is usually sung to the hymn tune "New Britain". It has been recorded by a rich diversity of artists including Rev J.M Gates, Judy Collins, The Royal Scottish Dragoon guards, Aretha Franklin, Kylie Minogue and Joan Baez. It was even played by Mr. Scott at Mr. Spock's funeral in the film Stark Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I recall President Obama bursting into a rendition of it whilst delivering the eulogy at the funeral of Clementa C Pickney who had been the pastor of the church in Carlston, the scene of a mass shooting. As he sang he shed tears. Surely a moment of pure grace. Amazing Grace keeps on surfacing and resurfacing in a variety of forms, both religious and secular and across the generations and there seems little doubt that it will continue to do so.

“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound”

I hear Grace, been hearing it all week, but what is it?

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.

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.

“Grace” has both secular and religious connotations. We can be given a period of grace with regard to payment of goods procured. We can be in someone else “good grace”, meaning we are in someone’s good books, we have gained their favour. We might compliment a person by saying they are graceful in the way they hold themselves or gracious in the way they act with others. In music a composer may add “grace notes”. These are added extras that are not essential but may add an artistic flourish to the piece.

Now of course classically speaking the “Grace of God” is 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.

When I think of my two friends the gifted writer and the one who has perfect pitch. These were gifts they were simply born with. Yes they have nurtured those gifts and developed them, but I suspect mostly they are simply gifts that they were born with.

I suspect that Grace is something you just can’t avoid, even if you don’t always recognise it. 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 troubles away. 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 at 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. It is not for us alone. The gifts we have are given to share for the good of all. I was thinking of this as I talked with my writer friends the other day and the gifts and talents they have been given and how they are coming back to life again, how they are setting their sails once more.

No two people are exactly alike. We all have our gifts, our different abilities. We are all born with certain aptitudes and innate ability. We all have something to offer the world, to share with life, but they are not all the same. Thank God. I myself have always been a communicator, but never an athlete. My mum often tells me I could talk long before I could walk. That you could hold a conversation with me as toddler long before I took my first steps. There were two reasons for this. My mind is wired for communication and also because I was born with underdeveloped nerve endings in the base of my spine. This made physical activities difficult as a child. Therefore I could talk early and walk late.

We are all given different gifts. Our task I believe is to make the most of these gifts, to enjoy them and to share them with others, thus inspiring them to make the most of what life has given them. This I believe is the point the epistle Paul was making in is first letter to the Corinthians chapter twelve.

He wrote the letter because each member of the congregation, in their struggle to be the perfect congregational leader, were getting in the way of the others. Each one of them wanted to possess all the good qualities that make up a good leader, to become the perfect leader and to leave the others in their shadow. As a result they appeared to be nothing like a group of people living in the image of Jesus.

Paul taught them that the spirit does not allow even the possibility that one person can possess all the talents. That said if people come together in love, live interdependently and inspire one another with their gifts they will create a community for the good of all.

We all have gifts, talents that have been bestowed upon us and I believe we have a responsibility to learn to use these gifts well and to recognise that the same spirit that gave us these gifts requires us to use them cooperatively with those who have different gifts to us. They are not to be used lightly and selfishly, neither are they to be despised. In so doing we will inspire others to do the same, to make the most of what they have been freely given.

Let us be grateful for the gifts that have been bestowed upon us. Let us make the most of these aspects of our humanity that have been given us. Let us learn to share them with one another, let us be inspired by one another’s gifts and create a true kin-ship of love right here, right now.

In so doing we will begin to live in a “State of Grace”.

Below is a video devotion based on the material in this "Blogspot" 

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