Grace, Wellspring and Compass

‘Tis grace shall bring me home.         –Amazing Grace, Spiritual 

My Lutheran heritage brought me in contact with a theological tradition that talks about grace. We defined it as undeserved love. It was one of the things that demarcated Protestant faith—no penance, praying rosaries, no elaborate ecclesiastical hierarchy. Just grace, plain and simple, accessible to all, given to all, accepted by faith.

But it went deeper than that. It was a whole outlook on life, a way of being that gave forgiveness and compassion because you yourself were forgiven and deeply loved. I felt this from my parents. I was taught to look for it in scripture. I sang about it in church, and later, taught it from the pulpit.

Grace is a powerful thing. As a concept, its theological roots run deep, and it can be found across religions. As a practice, it is a both a spiritual wellspring from which to draw and a moral compass for how to treat others.

Christians anchor God’s grace in the person and work of Jesus. The importance of the crucifixion story, as I now understand it, is as an expression of a universal consciousness of grace as lived out in a singular life, in a particular place and time, and how that life and that time can be in a way redemptive for us all.

There is much to be gleaned from the Bible when it is read from the lens of grace. If by meditating on the Word we find grace, we are the better for it. When the Bible is not read from a place of grace, and for a message of grace, it is easily subsumed by fundamentalism and fearful, protectionist dogma.

But more than that: it needs to be said that the Bible and the story of Jesus are not the only narratives of grace. In a time that seems to be ruled by the grace-less (in every possible sense of the word), we need as many narratives of grace as we can find. I’m looking for them, from all sources of religious thought, as well as from atheist and non-believers.

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What are your stories of grace? Take a moment and share one here. Especially if it involves a character from a non-Christian background or source, I’m deeply interested in hearing that story now.

 

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Ring of Silence

Midweek Devotion

November 19, 2015

As your meditation becomes deeper it will defend you from the perpetual assaults of the outer world. You will hear the busy hum of that world as a distant exterior melody, and know yourself to be in some sort withdrawn from it. You have set a ring of silence between you and it; and behold! within that silence you are free.

—Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism

grass circleWe all need a ring of silence.

I found mine at a Jesuit retreat house, of all places. The first time I went, I was not sure what to do facing the silence and long hours. I brought many things with me to do to fill the time.

Over the course of days I was there, however, all the accoutrement I brought began to seem like so much extra baggage, unnecessary and burdensome.

My inner mind and heart began to speak to me in the silence. The first night it was as though my mind emptied itself of all the chatter filling it. My dreams were full of meetings, conversations, discussions. The next nights were absolutely calm.

I began to hear my deep inner voice, the one that cannot be heard above the din of everyday. I discovered myself then. As I wrote down my thoughts, as I explored the sometimes strange and scary ideas and feelings that were dwelling there below the surface, a new and more authentic vision for my life began to take shape.

(The Jesuits were not intrusive. I took a private retreat and was able to guide it myself. Many such retreat houses offer guided retreats as well, but for me, I needed the space to dwell there on my own.)

Even now, years later, the deep silence and self discovery found on that first retreat guides and shapes my life and being.

Resolve to find a place of retreat, where you can bravely face your silence, and your life will change immeasurably.

Take a GoodMinute

Where is your Ring of Silence?

 

Stride

Midweek Devotion #5

August 5, 2015

The soul is merely a word for something about the body…’I’ you say, and are proud of this word. But the greater thing—in which you do not want to believe—is your body and its great reason: it does not say I, but does I.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

We are not accustomed to thinking of our bodies as having reason.

The ancient Chinese perceived that each organ had its own governing system, its own “mind.” This governing mind was interconnected to all part of the self, including one’s emotions. The lungs, for example, are associated with grief, the liver with anger and depression. Acupuncture is built in part on this premise. Understanding how each organ’s “mind” works provides instruction on the stimulation of the organ and its meridians, which in turn promotes health.

In the West, beginning with Plato and finding salient expression much later in the French philosopher René Descartes (I think therefore I am), we have tended to look upon reason as being like a control tower, separate from the body and having its own essence.

Bodily Wisdom

Bodily Wisdom

Spirit and Mind are very connected in this view. The self, or soul, is an immaterial existing thing that is now temporarily attached to a body. Physicality then becomes about suffering; spirituality becomes about escaping the physical. Thus the ascetiscm and body-denial found in many religions, and exemplified in Christianity: Jesus must go into the desert for 40 days, we are told to “crucify the flesh.” Bodily activities are less pure than mental ones: better to marry, Paul says, than to burn with lust, but being celibate is an even greater achievement. And what is more pure than the Mother herself, the sexless virgin Mary?

Nietzsche wanted to turn this body denial upside down: “There is more reason in your body than in your finest wisdom.” Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a meditation on reversing the religious values handed down through the ages, and achieving a new sense of the power within each human being as creative selves.

Stride, by Helen Frankenthaller. Acrylic on Canvas, 1969

Stride, by Helen Frankenthaller. Acrylic on Canvas, 1969

Take a GoodMinute:

What practices help me return to the wisdom of the body?

When I say “I”, to what am I referring?

What did Aristotle mean when he said “The soul is the form of the body?”

Why is this topic important for Nietzsche, and why is it important for us?

How well do I listen to my own body?