As the A.R.T. staff began to discuss how the word “grace” factors into Anna’s production of Let Me Down Easy A Play In Evolution, we realized how individual concepts of grace are very different and very personal. One member of our group found himself uncomfortable with the word; others found it powerful. Some saw it spiritually, while others associated it only with the body.
How do you think about grace? Do you think of yourself as someone who experiences grace in your life? Why? How? If you work in the world of health care and healing, how do you see grace fitting in?
[…] jump start conversation about the production, the A.R.T. has posted an entry on their blog titled “What is Grace” — they’ll be reading and collecting (and responding […]
I think as you get older you start to understand grace better…and how to put it forth in everything you do from how you talk to your spouse or children to how you interact with strangers and put something positive into the world vs. all the negative that’s already there. Grace seems to be something we’re running short on as everyone gets busier and busier and it takes more effort to exhibit it. When I was a tad younger I think I didn’t worry about how people viewed me or how I physically came across, but then you realize that you often only have a very short window of time to leave a lasting impression with people and so you start to consider how people view you in new ways. Perhaps it is thought of as physical, but I kind of think of it more as how you respond to things…anything…
I think of grace as a divine gift to us, individually, in which we suddenly become aware. Often this awareness is of His presence at that moment in our lives. It comes in any number of ways, through another person, through natural beauty, and many other ways. Sometimes it is dramatic — James Joyce’s ‘epiphany,” — and sometimes it seems quite ordinary. Art, in general, and the performing arts, in particular, make us aware in new ways, and can provide moments of grace. The creative process should provide moments of grace to the artist, who then may try to communicate that grace to the audience. I was working on a play, years ago, when one of the characters asked another, ‘What is the meaning of life?” I was disturbed by that question, because I had no confidence in my ability to come up with a meaningful answer. But the other character had this answer, “The meaning of life is to love and to create.” That was grace.
This quote from Morrison’s “Beloved” has stuck with me through the years:
“She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”
Grace is the gentle spirit that descended on my grandmother as she prepared to die. In the last six weeks of her 85 years, she declined a life-extending, but not saving, round of chemotherapy. Instead, she extended invitations to those she loved. She filled her apartment with fresh flowers and her favorite treats. And she sat at her table with each of us. In a strong but quiet voice, she said good-bye. It was in those days that I was able to truly know my grandmother as a woman. And I consider that a gift of grace.
Exploring grace in the “blogosphere” — a place defined by its lack of grace — is such a wonderful, unexpected invitation. I can’t resist it. Grace seems to occur in the sudden breaks in humanity’s daily, almost rabid hunt to have its own needs met. It is our most profound experience of humility, I think, where we feel our connection to a universe filled with life. I believe that grace surrounds us, but we tend to let it change us when it is least expected. The grace of a magnificent performance moves us, but may not challenge us as much as the grace found in a refugee camp, or even a crowded check-out line. I suppose the task (my task) is to open myself up to grace in all its expressions.
Grace is the maintenance of personal integrity in the face of suffering and fear….the ability to experience a sense of peaceful or joyful “aliveness” even when confronted with uncontrollable adversity. I believe every human being has the capacity for it…the lucky ones find a way to feel and express it in a sustained way.
l am constantly reminded of the true meaning of grace from my son, a child with special needs. He perseveres every day to achieve the basic things that come naturally and effortlessly to others. I see grace in his hard fought successes, in the heartbreak of his disappointments, but mostly in his courageous and undaunted efforts. Grit and grace go hand in hand.
I’m at an age where I have many friends who are dealing with declining parents. I’ve already gone through it with both of my parents and, as friends tell me about falls, and memory loss, and hospitalizations, I tell them that however horrible it is (and let’s face it, it is harrowing on so many levels), there are moments of grace. My mother was in her home on the Cape, she was 92 and had a series of strokes that had affected everything – her eyesight, her ability to talk, she was bed-ridden and nearly completely helpless. My children (then 11 and 13) were down to keep me company over the weekend. I had gone out grocery shopping, leaving them watching a movie, and my mother with the aide (those lovely women were another grace note). It was early winter, it was almost dark when I got home, and I remember coming through the door thinking to myself, “How am I going to get through this?” As I entered my mother’s room, I saw the aide looking at my mother with tears in her eyes (I wasn’t at an angle where I could see my mother.) I asked, “What’s wrong?!” Then I saw that my 11-year-old daughter was combing my mother’s hair and my 13-year-old son was massaging her hands with lotion. My mother struggled to focus her eyes on me and said, “I love these kids.” It was a gift.
Grace is ease. I believe that grace is learned…not intellectually, but through experience. Grace is moving comfortably in your own body, your own soul. Grace in our journeys can be compared to flowing water that embraces and moves smoothly around the edges of the rocks. Grace is the intuitive and creative power in all life. Trees sway gracefully in the storm with the wind. Grace is balance. Grace is innate confidence and that place where we perform naturally and fearlessly and joyfully with purpose.
It reminds me of a quote i have read…unfortunately, I do no know the author…”Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.” Grace is accumulated in moments that last forever.
The wings of the Monarch on it way to Mexico for the winter. W e have the guide to grace if we could only see the grace around us.
Grace is like making art. The process itself is a mystery, soundless, wordless, taking place in some part of us that is outside normal experience. We can tell when grace has manifested itself in our lives. It may take the form of a person, a sound, a vision, a profound experience, or a moment of great strength and insight that comes from within us. We make our own grace sometimes.
For me, my first thought of grace is acts of grace or blessings. After moving back to MA several years ago, I found most of my local friends had moved away or drifted away. For almost a year, I was in isolation with the exception of work. I would go out by myself, go to movies by myself, have dinner by myself. I told myself it was OK and that this is what life is supposed to be like when your in your mid 20s. One day, by some act of grace, a new woman at work was re-located to two cubicles down from me. I didn’t have any friends at work but for some reason this woman and I hit it off and the best way that I can describe it is that she resurrected me. I had someone to talk to every day at work and hang out with on the weekends. Through her I made more friends and eventually met my current boyfriend(who is another act of grace). She made me braver and more confident. She changed my life and is my act of grace. I never expected to have so many good people in my life. My cup overflows.
Kristin’s remarks her grandmother bring memories of my mother, Grace, who died on Valentine’s Day this year at 91 years. Grace was a feisty person…qualities that didn’t evoke thoughts of “small g grace” on the surface. Yet, her love of small objects, especially those from Japan and China, her love of the art of Lautrec, her joy listening to flemenco guitar…this joie d’art reflected a state of grace. Appreciation of art transcends politics, religion…all of our institutions. Getting us to that state, sometimes almost trance-like, that gets me in the “grace-ful” state of mind. Transformed.
Grace is the gift given to those who can be compassionate, kind and forgiving in moments that we could never comprehend we could ever be.
I have witness the gift of grace of forgiving mothers in South Africa who have forgiven those who tortured and murdered their loved ones in inhumane ways during apartheid. I have seen the grace of Nelson Mandela who embraced his captives and the widow of the author of apartheid.
Grace is the belief of “ubuntu” – “a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with with yours.
When I dehumanise you, I inexorably dehumanise myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging”.” – Desmond Tutu
Apologies for the typos! 🙂
witness > witnessed
captives > captors
As Ghandi said, “you don’t know non-violence until you are in a violent situation”. Being a yoga teacher/practitioner of 20 years I have been used to moving gracefully and easily in my body. This past year I found walking more and more difficult until I was diagnosed with severe osteo arthritis in both hips. I’ve had a replacement in one which has relieved some pain, but working with my other hip I still find it awkward to walk with a natural gait. Now my investigation has moved to the minute play of tiny movement, or no movement at all so that I might find that clear, expansive experience of grace and ease. It still exists, only in a quieter, more hidden space.
I love this concept. I suffered through a very difficult breakup in January and have been struggling to recover. Recently, while I was away on vacation, I met someone who became attracted to me. While I did not, unfortunately, return the romantic affection, a friend reminded me that the experience for me to feel someone else’s interest again, to know that I am still attractive, was a moment of grace. Thank you and good luck with your show.
I am a mathematician (at MIT in fact) and grace for me is also a beautiful proof for every difficult theorem. There are some mathematicians with a strong mind, no matter what the problem is they will “fight with it” till they solve it. But their proofs are indeed a war for the brain, it doesn’t bring harmony and grace. Then there are other ones who, like you said, can “peal” the layers one by one with respect for the opponent, till at the end it almost look like the problem decided to give itself up with elegance and grace. Usually these proofs are incredibly beautiful and one really has the impression that whoever invented them understood the perfect nature of the “enemy” and found the key to perfection.
The word grace has always eluded me. Even looking it up in the dictionary never gave me a true understanding of its scope. Nor did the Catholic church in which I was raised. It’s a beautiful word, one that friends have named their child after, yet one that I have always chased after, trying to “get it.” The year prior to this summer, I lost my mom suddenly although she had been ill for 12 years. In those years, I had become quietly petrified of losing her. She knew I was afraid and comforted me as she always did. After losing her, I decided to give her eulogy because I wanted someone who knew her to the core to honor her life. The first thought I shared was about my fear of losing her being realized, but that it was so very different than I had expected. Instead of feeling lost, I felt surrounded, comforted, embraced by my mother’s love. It was then that I FELT grace. I may not be able to explain it, but I now know it.
Grace – Imagine a vision of grace for yourself. Q: Is it an external vision of a movement of another or is it an image from inside shared with your God or just self reflection? Think of Grace as an expression of transition – neither a start nor an end but the “in between” the we all so often forget to appreciate, cherish and listen to. Journey, not the destination y’all. Remember time by the voids, not the events.
Grace is the presence of God. It’s the flower that grows through the rocks.
It’s my deceased Grandmother’s name. In the poorest of neighborhoods, Grace would comfort her neighbors with poetry and humor. She delivered kindness to those in need and gave hope. Her graceful energy is always around me, although, I never met her. I grew up with many a “Grace” story. It’s a concept and name I have always loved and been fascinated by and strive to make graceful choices everyday. Grace is the resistance you feel when you have the urge to talk- but instead you listen with a compassionate heart. Truly listen.
Grace pushes you forward through a maze of impossibility.
Grace can come unexpectedly. Grace gives you faith in the universe. Grace is subjective.
Grace, in my limited experience can be approached through ones work/art. By that I mean, all the ingredients necessary for the potential of grace; courage, sacrifice, compassion, are correspondingly required for any worthwhile artistic endeavour
Grace is a unique awareness of the world, a unique way of Be-ing. The outer core consists of compassion and forgiveness, the inner core of strength and wisdom. Grace can be flowing or standstill, but never static. In one Seinfeld episode, the characters talk about whether one can acquire Grace, or not. I say one can acquire it- through a “stop and smell the roses” philosophy. Slowing down, paying attention are key aspects to Grace. When one pays attention, one fosters a deeper connection to the subject. It’s the difference between lightly jumping through puddles, and diving deep into a cool lake. Grace emerges from within through sincere smiles and gestures, like a person emerging from that deep dive.
Grace is water. Really – it is! Pure and simple, it wraps its arms around anyone willing to have the experience. Think about it: as you run your hand through it while sitting in a kayak or row boat, or in a pool chair, the silkiness takes your mind away to beautiful – graceful – places. Regardless of your size or personal sense of place in the world, water will hold you up and make you feel special. Water is grace and grace is water. Its fluidity allows for people to jump in at any time, no matter if others are already in! It is always inviting, always welcoming, always accepting. Each and every one of us should behave like water, always inviting and welcoming when another soul wants to “jump in.” Water is grace!
Grace is when the muscle in your chest is finally at rest
Grace is humanizing not demonizing each other
Grace is when we empower another or humble ourselves
Ghandi on his mat spinning cloth
The homeless man who donated a dollar to my cause
Often I’ve heard in my Baptist church the words “His Grace is sufficient for thee.” Intellectually I could agree and still question what that actually meant. Until one day at the bedside of a young dying mother frail and fading. She had joined church as an adult, but not been baptized. Her illness had taken her over body. Death was hours away. When the senior pastor and I had finished the bedside baptism ritual. She wordlessly sat up in her bed, firmly and joyously embraced her husband and smiled through her pain. The room was transformed and alight with her joy. We quietly left them embraced and at peace. For this young frail and fading woman, “His Grace is sufficient for thee.”
In a context of religion, or of the human soul, grace means something very deep. But the quality of “grace under pressure” is also to be prized. This is what JFK had, at least publicly, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and what Al Haig did not have after Ronald Reagan was shot. Somehow, it combines humility with confidence, even resolve. It is an inner quality, but can inspire others powerfully.
I regret the response this question about grace elicits from me. I hate hypocrisy. Grace is unfortunately a quality I did not observe in Ms. Smith, whose artistry I greatly admire, when we interacted through her agent a year ago. By her own characterizations of grace, she failed. She canceled a commitment to our nonprofit advocacy organization four days before she was scheduled to perform at a long-anticipated fundraising event–not because of illness, not because of any catastrophe, but (according to her agent) because she was behind schedule with a movie she was doing. Fulfilling her commitment to us had become inconvenient. No apology, no direct communication, no sense of understanding our plight, in short no grace. Truly, we have moved on from this disappointing, sad moment, but receiving an email suggesting that Ms. Smith is committed to acts of grace could not go without comment.
as a haiku poet, grace means:
across the binding
the strength of
the whirl of sunshine
in her head
Grace is a given moment when you think there’s no more time. Something unlooked for,yet bestowed. When I visited my mother, who was adrift in the fog of Alzheimers, I felt a familiar frustration at our mutual isolation, I had brought flowers from my father’s memorial service and had decided to talk about them one by one. She’d always loved flowers.
As I approached her in the hallway of the nursing home, she turned to the nurse beside her and said ‘That’s my daughter, Julia’. I felt lifted up, everything around me became hazy and muted – a peripheral buzz. I sat down and took her hand in mine. I touched each flower in turn, color, fragrance….she smiled at the lily in the center of the bouquet, her given name. She talked of my father in the present, of how she liked the way they washed and styled her hair. Time stood still as we came together, protected as in an embrace. I didn’t need to say the words; I knew that someplace deep inside her she knew the flowers were for him. It was the last time I saw her. She felt free to go. A gift of grace.
Grace is knowing you can say something hurtful and probably deserved… and not.
This invitation was a moment of synchronicity that could only be grace. This morning, before having seen the email, I had said to my husband that if I had ever had grace, I have lost it. Instead, what I’ve noticed lately, is quick rips of anger in myself, scattershots that land indiscriminately, too late to be pulled back. The intensity has caught me by surprise, taken my breath away. I haven’t known my self and wasn’t sure where to look to find it. Then I received the email (forwarded to me by my husband…not unaware of the coincidence, I’m sure) and I began to read what everyone has been saying and THAT really took my breath away. The stories are beautiful, simple, quiet, grace-full. Given my current lack of grace, I even appreciate Mr. Rosenfeld’s disappointment in Ms. Deveare-Smith’s actions, or inactions. Perhaps a fall from grace is not the end. A simple invitation to dialogue may be all it takes to re-open the door.
Grace is in my cousin who is dying with such dignity and gentleness. He has pancreatic cancer and is teaching me every day how to live and die without complaining. Such a giving person who asks how I am with such concern for me. He is a gentle soul and filled with goodness. I used to see him out of obligation but now I am sure that I am getting far more than he is out of our visits.
Grace comes from an ease of doing something unbidden, without planning or self consciousness. A spontaneous gesture of kindness or a pencil quickly tracing a profile are filled with grace.
Grace is humility, altruism and courage given life in what we say and what we do.
Grace is the outward expression of inner beauty.
Grace is spiritual class !
When in the 18th century Jonathan Edwards wrote his apostrophe to Sarah Pierrepont, he identified her as a person who was full of grace–this would be in the religious sense in which Puritans recognized grace as being endowed on a “saint” by God. Full of grace as Edwards perceived her to be, Sarah was in full spiritual harmony with God’s will (or providence), and there was no discord in her (Edwards equated free will with aligning one’s own will with the will of God. While I do not share Edwards’ religious beliefs or faith, I do understand his point, which is consistent with his beliefs, and I think there is a secular parallel. So that a powerful symptom of grace would be a harmony, a “being-with-it,” an “at-one-ness” that would be sensed by anyone in the presence of such a person. Of course, a person who was full of such grace would be rare and would also be a powerful presence. It was said of Emily Dickinson, who by the way refused conventional Christian salvation, that she was such a powerful presence that people (adults, that is) were uncomfortable speaking with her face-to-face and would communicate with her through a mostly closed doorway. It is also something that cannot be manufactured; whatever the degree of grace one may possess, it is not a the disposal of the one possessing it; indeed, a sign of grace may very well be that the possessor of it isn’t particularly aware of it. One would have a concentrated energy focused on something, and it would be that focus one would be aware of, not the grace collateral quality others would identify as “grace.” Wouldn’t we say of grace what we might say of beauty: “I can’t define it, but I know when I’m in the presence of it”? While I have felt degrees of grace in many people I have known, one person has stood out in my own life as being “full of grace” (and I don’t mean this in a religious sense narrowly speaking but in a sense that was most righteous. He ran a subsistence family dairy farm I used to work on summers when I was in my teens. He had infinite care, understanding, and patience with everyone, especially children and animals, and he had a tremendous respect for all living creatures. He was not a large man, but he was powerful. At the age of 18, I could not bend back one of his massive fingers with both my hands. I once saw him, when the connection was out of alignment, hitch the hay wagon to the tractor by pulling the hay wagon with one hand toward the tractor hitch. Yet he never used his strength to harm a living thing. Cruelty and stupidity angered him (he expressed his anger when he heard someone jacking a deer at night), but I never saw him angry. If he planned to rake hay and it started raining, he submitted to the elements with grace and did not rail agains what was out of his control. I never saw him waste anything, neither time nor leisure. He was utterly unself-conscious and unselfish. He had a charisma he would have been startled to hear about. If his life was hard, you wouldn’t know it from him, for he never complained. I don’t remember his laughing a lot, but he smiled a lot and found life funny. When he slaughtered animals for food, he did it in as humane a way as possible, for he would not willingly have made any living creature suffer. During deer season, he sometimes shot a buck for the meat locker, but he never hunted intentionally. I have never met a human being I have admired more, and as a youth I never encountered a better role-model–not in the sense that I wanted to become him or be another him, but in the sense that I would have wanted him to like and respect me, and I worked to earn his liking and respect while he was alive. Indeed, I can’t think of another human being who has ever had such an impact on my life. If I hadn’t known him, of course I wouldn’t know how diminished my life would have been without knowing him. But having known him, I know how diminished my life would have been had I not known him–had he not been a father-figure to me. So, my name for grace would be the exemplar I’ve known. For Jonathan Edwards, the name of grace was Sarah Pierrepont; for me, the name of grace is Vernon Carlson.
Grace is when you are standing at the edge of the water on a beach in Provincetown Mass. feeling heavy-hearted and despondent and suddenly a stone washes up at your feet in the shape of a
In music, a grace note is something that is added as an embellishment to another note. And so in our human lives, I think of grace as something that adds beauty, compassion and deeper meaning to that which already exists. It is our job to put it there, but it is also our joy.
It is like a helping hand of a homeless person helping you to get up when you fell down.. Every living being has “it”–but difficulty to show it and when it happens–it feels like a fresh breeze, but sometimes though, it feels like a little breeze moving a feather, sometimes like a little weave touching the sea-shore on the sun-down, or better, like the feeling we get on that sun-down, the feeling that we made it another day and how beautiful it was to be alive–just one more day…
I am an InterPlayer – we believe in the physicality of grace – that our bodies hold wonderful ease and wisdom and that we can unlock this wisdom through movement, song, telling our stories and finding our stillness. We see grace as an opposite of stress – noticing what feels good in our bodies. Maybe its a moment of vast, spiritual awareness. Days after my sister died I was on a plane about to land and truly felt her presence in one sure moment of spine tingling awareness. But grace is also the little stuff – the lovely wet melt of dark chocolate on my tongue.
We have so much grace between us, in the delightful interaction of sensuous bodies – not necessarily sexual, just hands coming to hands and breath coming together in joyous song or raucous laughter or silent stillness.
In InterPlay is an ongoing community of people who dance, sing, tell their story: people who are generous, funny, improvisational and actively seek grace for themselves and others (and of course, this is a community open to all).
Grace is something to be drawn out and delightfully smeared around!
Grace is the ability to forgive. Admission of personal responsibility is even more difficult. The other person’s point of view is worth consideration ahead of one’s own. The adversary is the instructor. Compassion is grace in action.
I am not religious and confess to being pretty self centered. So, when my unmarried, 74 year-old aunt was dying of esophageal cancer (and we often had had a contentious relationship), I fretted that I wouldn’t even be able to hold her hand. A friend who volunteers in Hospice said that it would come to me, and it did.
For 6 months I cared for her in a 4th floor walk-up apartment and never waivered from the job before me. She was not one of the lucky ones — no deathbed epiphanies and she was not able to help herself in those six months. But from somewhere–this pretty self-centered being that I am (also unmarried and with no children), found a place of grace where I no longer mattered. What mattered was to make her feel safe, alleviate her pain as best I could, and give her the comfort and care that she was unable to give herself. Her passing was, in so many ways, a gift to me, a gift of the knowledge that I DO have reserves of patience and resilience, that I CAN get outside myself and provide nurturing for another person (even though I so often feel I need it myself).
She went peacefully, in the night, after having fought for as long as she could, and I am eternally grateful to have been able to be there for her. I don’t know where that came from. No idea whatsoever. But if grace it was, then thank the goddesses and gods and whomever one may pray to that it was there for me when it was needed…and that I can summon it again, when I need to call upon it. Life being what it is, most of us will always need some grace in our lives.
Isn’t it interesting that so many of these entries is about either tending a loved one who is dying or the grace a loved one showed at the end of life? I think it is because it is a time we are face to face with something we fear (the loss of that loved one and also, of course, we have to really confront our own attitude toward death). I think it forces us up to open up to the terrifying, but also the beauty of the love and caring that is in all of us (as the Quakers say, the spark of divinity in all human hearts). That said, I wonder if there is something culturally specific here…would people from Paris, Senegal, Capetown , Bogota or wherever write about the same things. Perhaps Ms. Smith will reflect on that in her performance.
Grace is allowing the other person to shine.
In the physical world, I experience Grace most effortlessly when I am moved or thrilled by an Artist’s creation; visual works, dancers (usually modern dancers for me…) and theatre that transports me to another reality and takes me to some form of enlightenment. I feel Grace when the heaviness of the adult world is lifted for just a moment, and I once again have the vision and the ears of a creative child, who is not blocked by negativity in all of its various human forms!
I also think of Grace as a Spiritual occurence and have watched it happen before my very eyes; as a specific karmic type of experience that occurs when a person is willing to look at the world in a way that they had previouslly closed their mind to.
Grace is an aura…it’s what makes you “you”…it is how you look at things…it is how you accept them, and how you deal with them.
A wise Baptist preacher’s sermon comes to mind – “Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” The acronym, though particular to evangelicals, may provide a window of understanding for us all.
That which is beyond us but twirls around us serendipity-like … a gentle breeze, a warm pulse of light, an invisible hand upon the shoulder, a welling up of tears, a forgiving word, a sweet bird melody, the luring fragrance of perfume or newly picked herbs, the quiet lap of waves and ocean air that lull us to sleep, a deep belly laugh among friends, a looking and seeing into each other’s heart, the vibrant colors of flowers in full bloom, the sparkle of imagination, the unuttered prayer, the bliss of love’s orgasm, the warm gentle rain, the pitter patter of a child’s step and playground laughter, the let me down easy snuggle of a lover or love creature, the heartfelt memories of those who have passed to the other side of time.
Once thought about, grace is forever surrounding us, upholding us, soothing us, inspiring us, guiding us, opening the windows and doors that we could not see, extending the hands we could not reach for, lifting us from our bed of despair, giving daily bread and small pathways to follow.
And what part do we play in this dervish dance of grace? Perhaps only to say yes, to extend the hand, to receive, to open our eyes, our ears, our nose, our mouth, to taste and see that it is good – to take the first step to lead and be led in the dance?
The Christ did that and does that with and within us each time we say yes.
What a wonderful discussion. I think of grace as an illumination helping me to remain present in the moment with an open heart–the perfect meditation. Sometimes when we are cracked open, for whatever reason, we become vulnerable and can be transformed. I love the refrain of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” reminding us to celebrate each moment– grace can come when we least expect it.
“Ring the bells that can still ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”
Grace for me is a device of the Great Mystery. Grace adds another page to the Book of Mysteries, a book of many pages, each page a story we cannot fully understand—or even begin to understand. Parading at times as accident, coincidence, happenstance, and at other times as foreordained, planned, predicted, it is a surprise that abruptly or slightly alters a path. As when for instance:
I met L, thru the good offices of J. Further, thru a community J was part of, further, thru something I made that brought me to that community.
Similarly with most of the important meetings, choices, opportunities that have “graced” my life.
Grace is the intercession of some force, perhaps divine, perhaps merely cosmological, that might forever remain ambiguous, inscrutable, fuzzy.
Is grace always benevolent? Is there another force that just as mysteriously brings ill? Is the flip side of grace divine punishment?
I teach English as second language two nights a week at Cape Cod Community College to a remarkable collection of adults. During those three-hour weekly sessions, we are there together, working collaboratively, to improve their command of the language of the country in which they are now living. We struggle together, laugh together, learn from each other, share stories, fears, and joys, and create a space where different is just different, not better or worse. For me, and, I’d guess, for most of my students, when we enter our classroom, we enter a place of grace, a moment of grace, an experience of grace.
Those of us who love the work we do are truly blessed.
I have been thinking about grace lately as I am reading Cathleen Falsani’s new book:”Sin Boldly. a Field Guide for Grace”. I recommend it. I am looking forward to hearing Anna Deveare Smith’s one woman show at the ART.
Near sunset on a summer week end in Harvard Square a young male opera singer started to sing “Amazing Grace” in a strong, clear, well trained voice. You could see and feel people from blocks away turning and walking toward the sound. By the time he finished the first verse, there were hundreds of people in the Square, traffic had almost stopped. He finished 3 more verses and then disappeared without looking for applause from the crowd or asking for money. The people kept milling around, looking at each other.
Grace, whether on the dance floor or the death bed, whether of the spirt or in the body, has to do with being of and connected to some force larger than self. It involves an integration with one’s surrounding environment: God, Art, Nature, or perhaps only the moment.
When I think of grace, I feel warm, focused, centered, and ever so in tune. The idea of grace is so complex, and yet, it is so simple. I can’t quite define it. But, there is something about observing life that connects me to situations I designate as grace. Following are a few ideas that came to mind.
Grace surfaces on those occasions when we have aha moments and believe how wonderful it is to be alive.
Grace is John Coltrane blowing “Alabama” in tribute to the lives of four little girls.
Grace is Toni Morrison telling tales of hope and possibilities under the most agoning of circumstances.
Grace is taking every chance we can to engage in life-affirming actions.
Grace is people embracing their dignity and deepest values in spite of their circumstances.
Grace is “snapping out of it” when there are no particular indicators that things really will get better.
Grace is finding a way to wake up and grab the powers within us.
Grace is bubbling with joy just for the sheer heck of it.
I experience an infusion of grace when a child looks at me and smiles. It takes my breath away and it imprints viscerally on my heart.
GRACE is unconditional humanity. GRACE is the unspoken. GRACE is the CLASS of the soul.
Grace is very difficult to describe or define simply with words. Grace is an experience that touches your heart and soul with the warmth of an unconditional love and security of an infinite wisdom. This all happens in a moment. It is often after the moment has passed that the presence of Grace is felt in our lives. So many moments filled with Grace go unrecognized, yet they exist none the less. I have known Grace in the young and old, the dying and the well, the mentally stable and the mentally ill – I have known such precious moments of Grace because at those moments I was open to it’s presence before me. I believe Grace blesses our lives in many different ways and often – but one must be open to the experience to know it. Those from whom the light of Grace shine know not the magnitude of their beauty, nor how it forever touches our lives
Sometimes grace is confronting someone in such a way that neither of you loses dignity nor respect for one another.
My grandmother was misnamed,
Grace, in a favored late 19th century way,
a misnomer leading to my father’s
mistaken take on women.
Her grim outlook allowed little delight,
her pessimism denied serenity,
grace said on the simplest basis,
giving thanks for a place in a world.
My mother had to teach him
that grace is living in harmony,
with yourself, with your others,
with your god, if he’s yours,
My mother believes the orioles
are one of God’s gifts
you have to watch for, even if
you don’t believe in god.
I helped my mother nail an orange
to a post, making a homing flare
for the orioles she had not seen.
Then as we walked our morning
constitutional, the usual loop
in the same neighborhood park,
I heard the sweet oriole song,
I thought, and stopped,
and prayed I had heard right,.
He flashed into a nearby tree
in the highest branches.
Now she hears him sing in the evenings,
playing hide-and-seek over her garden
until she points the hose skyward
and he swoops in to her through the spray.
Hummingbirds will also do this
sometimes, she says.
Grace is the choice to see what is good and beautiful in another, despite ugly traits or bad deeds. The choice is made not out of cowardice, weakness, or weariness, but from a belief that the good is as significant and true as the bad, and might yet prevail.
To Valerie: Your poem ‘Grace’ is lovely and appreciated. There are so many wonderful comments, Ms. Smith must be pleased to have generated the conversation.
It is, to me, the understanding of your true place in the universe. Understanding instinctively with your senses and then intellectually with your mind. Harmonizing the paradox that life is–a progression toward dying. It will then guide your behavior and cannot be unknown again. Few enter a state of Grace, but it does get closer with age, as does wisdom and understanding of many things. To cut the journey of understanding shorter, suffering–I’m sorry to say– is necessary. Since most can never know it for themselves it is wise to seek others who do. Anna Deavere Smith certainly helps with that.
I don’t really believe in grace.
At least not in our country. Now. Under this administration.
But in the holocaust of Rwanda’s war? And in Congo? And in those starving and dying and surviving rape and torture at the hands of their oppressors and yes-at the hands of our government?
There is something like grace when we bear witness without looking away.
And acknowledge the pain and loss.
And stand to be counted for truth.
Grace? The joy of going on being–and of those rare times I find myself able to shut down the “shadow play” of my relentlessly active mind & accept, be simply curious about this life, its essential, unfathomable mysteries–free of rancor or remorse. And even more, of those moments when I feel in a flash that there is truly no difference between myself and everyone, everything else alive! There is responsibility, here, I know–to live with an open heart. . . .
I think Grace is different in its experience for everyone, but shares many of the same qualities: being open, “in the moment,” in harmony, feeling alive, being true to oneself. For me, it comes down to playing the best game you can with the cards you get dealt. Not resignation or even passive acceptance, but active engagement and appreciation for the best that is available – in ourselves and in others – and using what you can to live well. Sustaining it takes consciousness and the willingess to let go.
It is the opposite of bitterness, which is corrosive and heavy on the heart; Grace is nurturing, buoyant, and restorative. Grace is the realization that there are blessings all around us, and within us, if only we will see them.
Grace is God awakening me each morning giving me strength and encouragement to meet the challenges of the day. He protects me from so many dangers of which I am unaware and some of which I am acutely aware. God brings me tangible and intangible gifts to enliven my life. I don’t thank Him as much as I could but I am glad to have this opportunity to express myself. He made me. He knows me. God knows that He is my life and I am grateful.
Days before we left Ann Arbor, pinning our vacation out East on seeing Anna’s new one-woman ‘tour-de-grace’, a young friend of mine, a math professor in her late 40s, had a stroke. Tragedy strikes, but this hit hard – a sharp. funny, ‘fitness nut’, single Mom who had just enrolled her son for his freshman year at the U of Michigan: it seemed more than unfair, it seemed wrong.
But then let us speak about grace.
With 11 siblings – nine of them sisters – and a mother who greets every day as a sign from heaven that He has something more for her to do, conversing – when needed and when bidden – with her dear husband Bill who left this plane years ago.
I spent a day with the family – almost all of the family – in the waiting area of the rehab center just before leaving for Boston, I saw my friend for a few minutes after her second full day of occupation, physical and speech therapy sessions. She was so very tired and I could feel her frustration when the words couldn’t come.
At the end of the day, I sent an email to the two sisters I am closest to, worrying about the numbers of siblings, siblings’ husbands/wives, nieces and nephews and others who were waiting for their five minutes to connect with this so-loved one, now a week into her recovery. I referred to the Rehab Center as a sort of “boot camp” in that email, telling them that visiting should be more severely restricted – that she had “work to do” and all this ‘extra’ time with family was too diverting.
In emails since, I learned – from at least four or five different siblings – of the my friend’s amazing progress during our trip to Boston.
I see now how metaphorical my use of “boot camp” was – how I reverted to a model that sucks grace out of our lives – all for the sake of our/my need for ‘control’. My friend, with he accompanying rich, varying and strong chords singing all around her, is truly the model for successful rehabilitation, of loving grace under pressure. I have absolutely no doubt that she will write the book – and give strong voice to the audio version – that helps others give and accept love in overcoming a tragic situation.
She is making extraordinary effort and progress -every day- with the grace of never-more-than-you-need love, layers and layers of wonderfully diverting and propelling love.
Thanks, Anna, for bringing the fullness of grace back into my head to give it meaning in my life again.
CS Lews said “Joy is always unexpected.” I think of this today and do not know (in my mind) why it comes bubbling up from underneath. I trust these memory bank thoughts when they arrive this way…They make me curious and grateful.
Grace happens when I get out of my own way… When I am fully present in my heart and soul no matter what the weather or the barometer reading is on the ‘outside.’
When in 1975 I fully surrendered to an alcohol addiction that harmed my family and me and all other relationships, I cried out to a higher being for help and received it in the form of light. In one crystalline moment everything cleared and was spacious. I knew exactly what I had to do – get to the telephone just 10 feet away and call a doctor who had not heard from me for 15 months. He, an alcoholism expert, picked up on the second ring that August day. A miracle, the first of the miracle that day-, for when I became his patient later on it would take days just to change an appointment with him. I was “12 stepped” and Dr. V’s last words to me ring out still — “You have done the greatest thing of all…” I said ‘What is that?” And his reply was: “You asked for help.” So I did then and so I do now, still, 33 years later….
The “Gift of Desperation” and “Good Orderly Direction” was given to me. That night,
a woman I had never met drove many miles out of her way throug the backwoods of in Vermont to take me to a gathering in N.H. this was my beginning, just as each new day is a beginning –to be rejoiced in, to be humbled by, to find joy in the unexpected synchronicities that arise, And to accept adversities as teachers.
Another memory bank recall: To go back and read a book called “The Spirituality of Imperfection.” To pray for peace, to come to love the silence from which all things spring eternal.
[…] you what Peter Gomes or Rev. Cone said about it. But if you’re interested, check the weblog of the ART, where they invite people to say what the word means to them. I confess I […]
Grace is the ability to keep going (moving through) in the face of mortality.