Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Journey of Grace

'Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.'
--Simone Weil. The late French activist & Christian mystic is too little-known, we think. I was also struck by this passage from perhaps her best-known essay, Human Personality: "At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him. It is this above all that is sacred in every human being." Now there's a perfect thought to frame the weekend.


At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Kristine said...

This is the root of resentment. I was a psych minor, and at my good Catholic college, that meant required courses in existentialism. I specifically remember one class where all we discussed was resentment, and we realized that resentment breeds because you are expecting life to be good, and expecting life to be fair. If we can get a grip of our expectations (that good will be done, as mentioned) we might be able to fight resentment and disappointment. Does that make sense?

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

I couldn't agree more, John. This is indeed a beautiful sentiment from Simone Weil.

Expectation is born of desire. We need to get a balance but if we had no expectations then I imagine we would be the worst of the worst. And to live life exoecting nothing but cruelty and rejection is generally the lot of the underprivileged and traumatised among us, to some degree perhaps all of us. So it's a a seesaw act between expectations of future goodness and of its opposite.

How closely is expectation linked to hope. The former has a more exacting tone, therein lies its problematic nature. It's probably best not to 'expect', but always hope.

Hope is full of doubt but it has that tinge of optimism that I consider essential in survival and a good enough life, whatever the circumstances.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hope is toxic because it's usually nothing more than desire, or expectation. Hope is usually an attachment to a desired outcome. In Buddhist psychology, it's exactly these sorts of attachments that lead to suffering, because they are never fulfilled. What we usually hope for is what usually never arrives. Hopes are dashed. We hurt because we feel hurt when hopes are dashed, and if it happens enough times, that leads us to cynicism, resentment, even despair.

Hope is something I can't afford to indulge in because all it does is set me up for disappointment and resentment. But a hopeless existence is not a negative one; it's a neutral one, without expectations.

It's only when hope is taken away that one can see what's really there. Faith doesn't depend on hope. Optimism that depends on hope will eventually be betrayed.

Weil is correct about grace. But grace is also always something that comes when it's least expected. So you can't hope for grace, you can only leave a space in your life for it appear. Maybe.

But because of our expectations of how life is supposed to be, we almost never recognize grace when it actually does arrive. Which is continuously. There is nothing more abundant in the universe than grace. We just usually expect it to look like something we can recognize, or in a form we expect it to look like: we set our images of grace before us, and see only those, and so miss real grace when it arrives via the side door.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Some great reactions here. They've certainly added wonderfully to the initial post. Thanks, everyone.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Kass said...

"It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most human beings live only for the gratification of it." Aristotle

I think the expectation of good experiences sets up the psychological dynamics of addiction.

I've written a poem called,
Haunted By Hope It deals with local sociological issues, so it's not totally relevant here - it just came to mind.

At 2:56 PM, Blogger June Calender said...

I think the Buddhists, as Art points out, get to the bottom of psychology more clear-sightedly than the Catholics like Weil. I really do not understand the concept of grace and rarely read it in Buddhist writing, possibly it has a Sanskrit name that isn't usually translated as "grace." If anyone can explain it simply, I'd love to hear.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Kass said...

June - Maybe grace is the quality we fall into when all of our other last ditch efforts to do and be all that we are capable of - fail. So many religions talk about grace: Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu God says, "United with me, you shall overcome all difficulties, by my grace. Fear no longer, for I will save you from sin and from bondage."...and Gandhi said, "Without devotion and the consequent grace of God, humanity's endeavor is vain."

From Addiction and Grace, by Gerald G. May, M.D. : "In Christianity we learn that grace is the outpouring of God's loving nature that flows into and through creation in an endless self-offering of healing, love, illumination, and reconciliation. It is a gift that we are free to ignore, reject, ask for, or simply accept. And it is a gift that is often given in spite of our intentions and errors. At such times, when grace is so clearly given unrequested, uninvited, even undeserved, there can be no authentic response but gratitude and awe." (pretty much what Art said)
I highly recommend this book, BTW...probably because it explains grace in terms of addiction.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

"There is no such thing as a simple act of compassion or an inconsequential act of service. Everything we do for another person has infinite consequences." —Caroline Myss

That is another spiritual law that turns up in every mystical tradition.

One Sanskrit word that means "grace" is shaktipata, literally, energy-bestowing. In Tibetan Buddhist practice, equivalents to "grace" are lovingkindess, open-hearted action, etc. In Sufism, "grace" means life-giving, but it also means mercy.

For the practical mystic, grace is equivalent to guidance. Again, nothing is more abundant; although you do have to be open to it. If you want to take it to the most basic level, grace is the life-force that sustains us, that keeps us going, that holds us up. So, grace is also love, and lifelove. Grace is the unexpected, undeserved, unasked for gift of our very incarnation: grace is why we're here, why we're alive, and why we incarnate to learn.

We swim in a sea of grace, of lifelove, continuously. We usually don't recognize it. And we're free to deny it, or ignore it, or shove it aside. Most people do.

What I learn from contemporary mystics and intuitives such as Caroline Myss, who I regard as one of my teachers, is that nothing we do, or choose, can ever remove us from grace. It's not possible, so don't even worry about it. We can choose to believe otherwise, of course. I once heard Caroline say, when talking about the dark night of the soul, spiritual madness, and how it keeps happening to contemporary mystics, was, "Life with God is so hard. But life without God is so much harder." You could say "grace" instead of "God," and it would still be true.

It's hard to get past the "God" language for some people, especially Westerners. So, just to be clear, what I mean by "God" is probably not at all what you think I mean. It's just that there isn't a better name-tag for talking about that force in the world that is grace-ful, and impossible to ignore. The baggage around the word "God" is not my baggage, and while I recognize that the baggage is there, I don't carry any of it. In this, too, Buddhist psychology, especially as worked out in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, has a great deal to offer us.

At 7:38 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kass does a wonderful job of fleshing out the various meanings of the word grace in the Christian context. I wouldn't presume to add anything to that wonderful summation. I'm not sure there's any good parallel in Buddhism.

At 8:48 PM, Blogger June Calender said...

My problem: I can't handle a word that can be defined so many ways. I'm left with only physical grace as in a dancer. I feel I cannot use grace in those manyhalizefs religious-philosophical meanings. Thanks everyone for giving thoughtful answers.

At 8:51 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You're also a graceful writer, June.

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I can appreciate that, June. I suspect you might your way to some meaning of that word via your writing. I certainly found it from that direction. From fiction, as much as from the mystical literature. Sometimes the lies that are fiction and poetry can tell more truth than nonfiction, as I'm sure you know.


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