What is grace? This question came up in a conversation I had weeks ago [Full disclosure: Weeks ago was early March 2013 when I originally wrote and published this post.] and I have been pondering it ever since. Certainly there are dictionaries to consult for answers to a question like this so let's get that out of the way first: Elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action; pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor or goodwill; manifestation of favor, especially by a superior; mercy, clemency, pardon.
Well, yeah, those all work. But we were discussing something deeper, bigger. So, off to more literary sources I went.
I checked the Bible (Ephesians) and the Roman philosopher Seneca. In both cases, grace has a quality of selflessness. In the first case, God is the source; it is faith that brings us to that source so that we may be a channel for His grace. Or, even when we are the source as Seneca wrote, with grace there is no clinging, no holding back, no smugness in giving, be it physical, emotional or spiritual.
Emerson said, "Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait." How relevant in our world of consumerism and celebrity worship! A friend defined grace as, "Contemplation put to the test." After a while, I realized that this elusive concept is actually present everywhere and I began to see grace in everything.
Grace is the tulip and daffodil shoots sticking up through the spring snow, it's the beleaguered, exhausted young parent loving their baby, it's the slowly opening eyes in my dying mother's head on her pillow, it's the spontaneous fist pump of accomplishment from a kid at camp. Grace shines in the sunlight on my back. Grace listens to others' complaints of aches and pains and ignores its own. There is grace in the organization of numbers and letters so that we may communicate our mysteries and ideas with each other. Grace is a sweet, amazing sound that saves wretches like me; it's the strength in the shape of an egg; the sound of a breeze through pine needles; the determination to give your best at school or at work; the silent warm hug that you needed just then.
Rumi wrote, "Through companionship with the ground a grapevine grows. It opens into the earth's darkness and flies. It becomes selfless in the presence of its origin and learns what it really is." Maybe that's what grace is--the thing that dissolves our sense of separateness and self when we are in its presence and, in such a moment, we experience the eternal connection with our origin and know we are one with each other, with God, with everything there is. Just one.
Where do you find grace? Look for grace in your life this week. Breathe it in when you are in the presence. Let it fill you up.