The word “grace” means favour, God’s favour toward us. Grace can be both creative and redemptive. As an unmerited favour from God, grace often leaves us in a posture of astonished amazement and gratefulness.
“How can I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” —Psalm 116:12
“We spend a lot of time looking for happiness when the world right around us is full of wonder.” —Thich Nhat Hanh, Silence
I recently read, “The Serpent and the Dove: Wisdom for Navigating the Future,” an article that appeared on the Huffington Post about spiritual activism. In this article, it stated how important it is to be a truth teller, make circles of connection, and prepare yourself with spiritual practice to face the tireless work of standing in the face of injustice. The end of the article reminded readers that in order to sustain ourselves for this lifelong work, we must regularly engage in experiences of joy and beauty.
We all know patience is a virtue and one that is not particularly easy to cultivate. The current US culture, for the most part, is fast-paced and pressure-filled. Rapid-fire responses, productivity, and achievement are valued. Rarely do we give voice and praise to what is measured and slow.
Impatience is a disadvantage when it comes to our spiritual lives. As spiritual companions, we witness this firsthand in ourselves and in others. We may long to possess a saint-like inner landscape. We may become harsh and judgmental with ourselves when we do not make the spiritual strides we’d hoped.
In his book, Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion, neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Pearsall defines awe as an "overwhelming and bewildering sense of connection with a startling universe that is usually far beyond the narrow band of our consciousness.”
Everyone loved the head of our synod. Don had a rare combination of strengths—common sense, administrative ability, thoughtful reflection—all wrapped in the gentlest of spirits. He was also in perfect health. Or so we thought, until he went out for a run and had a fatal heart attack.
What I remember most about his funeral was the terror that ran through me as I thought about God in this context. Who is this deity who kills off the best people, or at least allows them to die? What else might this deity do?
Yes, such questions may be futile or, horrors, bad theology. It hardly mattered on that day. What mattered was that I felt a real fear of God—fear with an echo of awe.
When I started writing this article, I misspelled the word “grateful” as “greatful”—something I actually do quite often when typing. It made me pause and wonder why two words which sound so similar—great and grateful—have the same letters in a different order. I mentioned this to my cousin, Al, who suggested that perhaps the linguistic roots are different.
Merriam-Webster traces the word great from the Old High German grōz (large). Grateful, comes from the Latin gratia (favor, charm, thanks) and from gratus (pleasing, gracious); it is the same root behind the word, grace. Sanskrit has a similar word, gṛṇāti (he praises).
A number of years ago I asked a class of seminarians to think of a time in their lives when they felt whole. As we began to share, one student said that he recognized a number of periods of wholeness, but each experience was very different. “My memory of wholeness as a child was very different from what made me feel whole in my teen years,” he said. “And a more recent experience feels totally new. Do you think we could be whole, and then more whole, and then more whole? Or is wholeness a final state of being?”