Saturday, November 08, 2008

States of Grace

I haven't been writing much. One of the reasons is that I've been reading Roger Ebert's Journal.  Through his physical travails, including the inability to speak, his writing, particularly the creation of his blog, has become quite phenomenal. It's the purification born of the refiner's fire. For me and writing, however, it's been like coming home from a Peter Gabriel concert- I can't entertain the thought of playing my  bass for quite a while afterward. Tinny, out of shape, incompetent in the face of greatness.

Another reason for my absence has been to resist the temptation to say something stupid about our recent 'troubles' , er, I mean, election. There was enough of that available for you, already. The comments made about Senator McCain's concession speech, though, was the catalyst for this essay. Several commented on how "gracious" it was - and it was. It has been my sad experience that many of these great men who are in public service seem only able to exercise this grace in private, or at the end of political campaigns. The process seems to make it impossible. Most of the Presidents in my memory have been smarter and of more value to me after their terms were completed. They were no longer posturing, they were able to fully speak their minds and display wisdom that was somehow obscured by their office, the need to skew and spin, or the Machiavellian machinists that seem to gravitate to the power of the office. That's a whole other kettle of fish. 

I began to think about Grace (with a capital "G"). I began to seek it, a bit more than usual.

This one was easy, it happened yesterday, in an instant. Walking in the hallway at work, running into Sister Leonita ('gracious' is not the first term I think of in terms of all of the Sisters of Mercy that I've met, but Sr. Leonita embodies it), we're going the same direction. There's a patient in a wheelchair moving ahead of us, slows us both down a bit, just the normal traffic, you know. Sister says hello to him, asks where he's going, and then says, "Can I help push you there?" Sister Leonita is about 5 foot 3, her age a Mediterranean mystery. Patient agrees, and they head off. I think, suddenly, that I should have thought of that; stupid galoot. Sister Leonita's grace surpasses her vows and job description, it is part of who she is.

Grace is always extended, offered, presented. Unlike trust, it does not exist on a two-way street - there's no implied contract. It exists without a requirement for reciprocation. It is the result of the law of sowing and reaping, a by-product of a previous investment. Graciousness, at least as far as I've been able to think about it, always comes from Gratitude. The cost to the one being gracious, while sometimes difficult, comes from the heart, which, by nature, gives in the knowledge that love is its reason for being, and is rewarded by the act itself. Grace, then, is not tentative, it is self-confident. Grace is a manifestation of Love. It is why Grace is recognized "under fire". I am able to be gracious when I have something to give, realize it, and offer it to you without qualification.

I guess what I've been thinking about, too, is when I and others aren't gracious. It's boiling down to selfishness, mostly, I suppose, the antithesis of grace. There's more to it, I'm sure; I haven't been googling "Grace" or seeking theological tomes on the subject, it's mere rumination on my part (and yes, I intend the analogy of turning it over and again in my gut, thank you). It's the realization part, the awareness aspect that's been gnawing at me. I'm sometimes not aware of an opportunity to be gracious, sometimes, like the example above, it's not realized until the opportunity has passed, and, at still other times, there's awareness, opportunity, and selfishness intervenes to prevent the flow of what should be. I am less apt to be gracious when I am at my worst - tired, frustrated, etc. - which means that Grace is also a product of the self-discipline of awareness, of taking care of oneself, of being able to do the right thing because you already are. Grown-uppedness. Grace is, then, a quality of a certain maturity, although my children offer it to me on a regular basis.

Grace is a particularly appropriate subject to be on one's mind in the runup to Thanksgiving (yes, even those of you across the pond who may not have a formal day for it in November). Maybe that's why Thanksgiving comes before Christmas, on the calendar, not after. I'm not being theological for a reason. The Grace of God is not separate from this discussion, it's just too huge for this little essay.

My daughter (and in this way opens the door to so many mind-boggling ways to portray who the rest of us really are) exists in a constant state of Grace. Provision is made for her every need, and her responsibilities are few. She does not know what she needs, she thinks she knows what she wants, and pitches quite a fit when her agenda doesn't match the greater one. She's quite unaware of the dangers that surround her, and disregards the warnings and barriers put between her and those dangers. She often has no understanding of the efforts on her behalf to educate and make her life better. Her awareness of concepts of time, love, what it means to be happy, exist in different dimensions of comprehension than mine. The result of our extension of that grace to her, through responsibility borne of love, brings a happiness and joy to us that is boundless and indescribable.

Emma has brought me more enlightenment on the nature of God, I think, than anyone or anything. Just a note, there.

I have existed in many states of Grace. Most of you that come to mind that might read this have extended that Grace to me in many ways, shapes and forms, even if that just means reading this. Thank you.

Our lives are really all "grace periods", from beginning to end. Here's to sharing it more often than not.