So this happened to me-someone asked, “What is grace? Tell me what grace means.”
I did not want to tell her, because I was afraid that my definition might be too narrow, too western, or too Christian, or not Christian enough, or maybe too blasphemous (as if blaspheming was a thing I tried not to do), or that it would just not live up to what I feel when I experience grace.
I tried to wriggle my way out of talking about it, but the ball was passed back to me. I cannot remember all that I said, but I tried to limit my usage of Christianese (few are fluent), and I tried to make it applicable in non-religious contexts.
Since then I have been trying to think of what my definition of grace is. Writing always helps me to sort through my thoughts, so I will just start writing and see what happens.
The grace issue came up because I have been tossing around ideas of karma and manifestation in my head. Karma says that what goes around comes around (eventually). It says that we reap what we sow. It says: you do good, you get good, and if you do bad, you get bad. Manifestation is very similar to karma (in my brain). It sometimes goes by the name “The Secret” and this woman I went to college with bought me the DVD because she thought I was too negative. Well, the DVD was dumb and I watched half of it and then promptly returned it to her (with a thank you note- I was raised with some manners). The Secret says that you can dream up things and think up things and you can attract them to yourself with good energy.
I do not believe in any of that noise. Do not be offended by my soap box rantings, but life is too ambiguous for that to make sense. As I like to say, “the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous,” as in- sometimes shit happens to good people and sometimes nothing happens to bad people. And does this ever suck. I do not believe in karma or manifestation or the secret or laws of attraction because I believe in grace.
My faith might be shattered and fractured into pieces the size of electrons and neutrons or fucking quarks (I just threw science in to my religious speak, because it is all the same to me), but I still believe in grace. I believe in grace because I need it. I believe in grace the same way I believe in the sun and gravity and oxygen. They keep the world working and they prevent us from dying terrible deaths. Grace does the same thing in my universe.
I believe in grace.
So what am I talking about when I talk about grace?
Grace is getting good when all I’ve done is put out bad; getting goodness that I could never earn or work hard enough to achieve. Grace is an unreasonably generous gift. Grace gives me more room to breathe, it does not make sense, but I greedily take it up because I need it.
Grace is when the Coast Guard shows up after I have been treading water. My ship sank because I did not know how to use a boat or care for it. I ran my boat in to a bunch of shit because I did not know how to drive it- so it sank. And I did not make preparations for a disaster or an emergency. I have been treading water for some time now and I can hardly breathe and I have choked on so much water. I want to give up and let myself sink. I wonder if inhaling water will be a relief to my tired and sore body. I am in this position because I failed. And then they come with a rescue boat and they wrap me in warm blankets and they feed me a hot meal and they give me warm things to drink. But I call the captain nasty names, and I kick a few people in the shins, and I scratch and bite folks who try to feed me. And then, as if that weren’t too much already, they treat me with kindness and love and dignity.
That is grace. I believe that this thing exists. I believe that this thing exists because it has happened to me.
Obviously, it is easy to get on board with this grace idea when I think about myself. Of course I want grace: sign me up, please and thank you. But it is harder to accept when I remember that there are some people who I don’t think should get grace.
Grace doesn’t fucking work like that, dammit. And therein lies grace.
I don’t make the rules, thank god, because I am a cruel shit when I want to be. And if I did make the rules, I don’t think grace could exist. The very nature of grace is disturbing and alarming. The people who I don’t think should get it, can get it and that is what grace is- getting goodness that you never could have earned.
Boom goes the dynamite.
I don’t want to convince anyone that grace exists, I am just trying to define the thing. It is elusive and ever present. We are given grace, but we want more of it. See- that is another thing about grace- sometimes it is with me and I just do not care to admit that it is there. This happens because I want more of it, or because I want it my way. I want McDonald’s grace (or at least I think I want McD’s grace). I think this is an aspect of grace as well; those of us who can admit we need it, want it cheaply, and quickly, and our way (see: Dietrich Bonhoeffer), but if that is how it worked it would then suddenly cease being grace.
My least favorite thing about grace (I am rolling my eyes at myself even as I type this) is that it is usually not delivered in the package we want. I usually want grandiose sweeps of relief (large sums of money, the cancer suddenly disappears, world peace); I usually want the Coast Guard to arrive. Sometimes they do arrive. But sometimes grace is when a friend gets in the water with you and they let you hang on to them because they are wearing a life coat. With that life coat they can swim for a bit and you can just rest for a moment. Grace might be that they have a cup of fresh water for you because the salty ocean has you parched. Grace could be that they have a flare gun and they are gonna wait with you until there is a rescue. Those things are good and those things are grace.
I wish that grace would have taken all the suffering away when my grampa died (his suffering and our suffering). I wish that grace had that jurisdiction, but it simply does not. Grace is that he knew I was there at his bedside. Grace is that I could hold his hand and that he could squeeze it. Grace is that I could sing to him before he died. Grace is that my friends were so generous to me as my heart shattered.
Did it hurt? Yes.
Was it awful? Yes.
Did God do anything to stop the natural cycles of life and death? No.
Did that make me mad? Yes.
Did I get what I wanted? No.
Did I get grace? Yes.
I have been on the receiving end of grace more times than I can count- thank god. There are so many people in my life who love me and, no matter how awful I am, they just keep on loving me and doing nice things for me. I don’t know what is wrong with them- to tell you the truth. But I need them. And I am thankful for them.
They are my grace.
PS: blah, blah, blah, God is grace, blah, blah, etc. You get my drift and I don’t need to bore you. If you are interested, I think God gives this grace. And when I say God, I am referring to the one of Isaac and Jake and Israel. Yada, yada, yada. Look it up if you want. Holla at me in the comments for some verses on grace, if you want.