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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Updated: Aug 9, 2020

Most of us are familiar with grace –one of those words that conveys many different meanings. For some it is an act of prayer offered in thanks for a meal or a blessing received. For others it describes a sense of charm or elegance or more frequently a sense of graciousness—the dispensation of goodwill and beneficence. I find its most powerful meaning in the phrase “there but for the grace of God”. In this context, Grace—is the palpable gift of love and mercy given us despite our failings. This grace is unearned—it is given without reservation and cannot be obtained by any act on our part.

If you have ever been touched by an otherwise inexplicable sense of serenity and acceptance than you know Grace at first hand and need no other explanation. It is not something everyone experiences though, but whether we recognize it or not, it is available to us all. In the world we occupy today the idea of Grace has become a more transactional sensibility. A benefit received in reciprocity for a kindness of our own. However, to give something without the expectation of reciprocity—to love without reservation, and to forgive without equivocation are acts beyond most of us. They are more than human, however much we may aspire.

What are these acts? Sacrifice for another, compassion in the face of hate, forgiveness of the unforgivable. There are others but they are all acts in short supply of late. If we have been the recipient of any of these acts—even a little--knowing that nothing we have done is deserving of such treatment than we have been touched by Grace.

Though the words may seem strained perhaps antiquated to our modern ears—the powerful hymn, Amazing Grace, has always spoken most clearly to me about the character of Grace. The haunting melody conveys its own yearning sentiment but the words, simple and spare sharpen the meaning. Most see it as a hymn of redemption, of a life saved. But note this passage: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” To know Grace, we must first know what it is to be without it—to know the abject fear of being without forgiveness, without acceptance and without hope. The hymn reminds us that it is only when we recognize our defenselessness in the face of our human frailty and failures; when we peer over the edge of nothingness and feel entirely alone, that Grace comes upon us.

I have no idea what my own future holds much less what our country and our world will face in the days ahead. Clearly life will never be as it was—whether for better or worse though remains to be seen. We go forward and look for meaning, for positive change even in the midst of abundant disbelief, selfishness, hatred and despair. The divisions that wrack our country and the larger world in which we live are about things of this world. We can and should stand for what is right in the midst of this storm, but we must also be aware that only by Grace can we prevail.

We humans have lived our lives with an arrogant belief in our capacity to steer the future. There was once a sense common to all men that taught us by observation and contemplation how to live within the world respecting nature and life, and the consequences of over reliance on our own understanding. We were open to learning about the world we inhabited. Today, we have closed ourselves off from this knowledge and no longer possess the sensibility. We have in short lost our humility and our fear placing our faith in dogma, politics, ideology and power. This cannot end well.

My hope for humanity rests in the simple phrase of the hymn. That out of the fears we presently harbor, might come relief--Grace, that restores and redeems us. As we peer over the edge into existential dread--knowing we have made this mess, I hope we may cease looking for who to blame--it is ourselves. Only when we recognize this truth will our fears be relieved.

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