The term “grace” covers a lot of territory. It can mean anything from an elegance of movement—poise—to a state of permanent godly sanctification. (The latter concept has always manifested itself in my imagination as a kind of shower of light. Which, now that I consider it, may be what all those Medieval and Renaissance painters were getting at with the halos they attached to the heads of angels and saints.) But today I’m thinking of something somewhere between the two endpoints of the spectrum.
I’ve been grappling with the notion of grace for a while. And by “a while” I mean “years”. Grace lies at the heart of my gratitude practice—my conscious effort to actively seek out people and things in my life that spark joy in ways both large and small. If you click on the “Giving thanks” label to the right of the blog, you’ll find my weekly devotion to gratitude. Sometimes it’s something glorious, like the Women’s March, or the Supreme Court striking down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage; occasionally it’s a reflection on a friend. But most often it’s me stopping to notice and appreciate small beauties, like sunsets and flowers and rabbits and birds; or even latte art.
The latter category—small beauties—is the one I draw upon on days when I feel the absolute crappiest. When I have to make myself cast about for something—anything—that doesn’t suck to the max, and that therefore might constitute some indication that there might be a reason to want to wake up tomorrow.
So this post from a local Unitarian-Universalist church on grace definitely resonated with me. The writer speaks of the grace that I seek—the small, unexpected splashes of light in a life that seems almost entirely in the shade, if not in darkness. This is the part that struck deep within me:
“I don’t get to choose when grace is given to me, so I must be gracious in my life.”
And this is where I struggle. I get so wrapped up in fears large and small—from what’s going on in the world and the nation to what’s going on at work—that I fail to be aware of grace, which also exists alongside the fear. With eyes focused on the pavement, I walk past the flower that peeks out between bricks in a wall. My brain replays last week’s conversations on continuous loop, so I fail to hear the birds singing around me. The scowl on my face as I gird myself for another frustration at work, on the commute, wherever…prevents someone from greeting me with a smile.
And thus my own lack of graciousness thwarts the very thing I seek from manifesting itself in my life. I fail, in Caine’s words, to recognize the subtle blessings in life—in my life. This is a fearful realization.
The corollary to this—something I also frequently fail to recognize—is that I can be a grace in the lives of those around me, by being kind, by being attentive, by showing recognition and appreciation. By picking up the litter someone else has tossed. By making room for the baby stroller on a crowded Metro car. By letting someone merge into traffic.
When you feel you have little to contribute, it’s heartening to think that you can give grace. It doesn’t require great wealth or grand gestures; it only needs awareness and willingness. I don’t get to choose when to receive grace, but I can choose when to give it. And by giving it, I can choose to be it. That is within my power.