Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Grace

I cannot imagine a more perfectly beautiful day than today. As I walked to the local park, my calves tensed and flexed, my toes struggling to relearn how to grip in loose leather sandals, and the breeze sometimes raised ripples of goosebumps across my bare arms, only to drop suddenly and leave my shoulders and neck bare to hot cascading sunlight. I wasn't exactly comfortable, but I was walking and involved in the work of walking. And this was good.

As soon as I spread my checkered blanket in the shaded grass beneath the oak and settled myself down, the world slipped open into midmorning perfection. Or rather, I slipped into that beauty that had been waiting. My muscles warm and relaxed, the trees bristling with new green shot through with the lingering colors of the last blossoms of early spring, and the grass already thick and lush, studded with the yellow of dandelions. The sky, the definition of blue, gathered in around the source of sunlight, home to the white solitary animals of scattered clouds. It was the kind of day that children draw, scribbled shapes in primary colors. I sat in meditation for an hour, seeking the still center of my being, quieting down, working the energy out with ever breath, opening myself up to the wind and sunlight, to the land and the trees, to the dew, clouds and coming rain that circulated together with the waters of my body. And when I was finished, I stretched out, laying warm against the earth, feeling her wide body curving away in all directions as she turned, rising and falling beneath me with every heartbeat.

I have been thinking about grace recently. I have been thinking that what grace really is, is relationship. Relationship with one another, relationship with the harmonies that echo and glide through the Song of the World, relationship with the land, with earth, sea and sky, relationship with Spirit.

And I have been thinking that I don't understand you, not completely. I understand little parts of you, like being familiar with the edge of a wood or the shoreline of an ocean, and I can see a few paths leading in, sometimes I can imagine where they go, only guessing. In the end, I don't really know and I can't always follow. I have been thinking about the toast, "To know him, is to love him." And to love you, is to know you.

In Christianity, grace is a gift from God. One might even say it is the gift from God. The Christian concept of grace is often misunderstood, misrepresented or misapplied, even by Christians. Sometimes, it is something withheld to all but the chosen few, the benediction of favoritism--and if you don't feel moved to agree, then clearly you haven't been chosen. But in the Catholicism of my childhood, "Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of [communal spiritual] life." (CCC 1997) It is relationship, and the capacity for such relationship, that the Divine gives freely and undeserved, to everyone. Spirit pours itself forth, continuously. Rain falls on both the evil and the good. Try to build a ladder to heaven and you will never make it; only, stand on the highest step and ask, and Spirit will lean close to kiss you deeply. This is grace. Those who have it, have not earned it or built it or won it as reward. They are simply the ones who thought to ask, and to allow Spirit to answer.

This is grace. Those who have it, touch the meaning of movement and stillness, of cultivation and surrender. The world is utterly full of grace, in every pocket of ecology and art. Each season has its grace, each body, ugly, old or tired as it may be. All things are in relationship, all things harbor connection at their core. When Druidry speaks of harmony and balance, the Song of the World, the web of being, this is grace. The emergent fitting-together of life's messiness and tension. The dance and weave, the tides and whirlwinds. The last magnolia blossoms unfurled and weeping in the dark magnificent howling storm. The first bee of spring, the perfect slivery sphere of a dandelion wish, the sunlight and the burn. The ant stumbling across the blanket's immense landscape of fuzzies and folds. Grace is relationship, and Druidry is brimming with it.

So when you explain yourself, your ideas and priorities, I have my own reactions, the places where the edges of your thoughts rub up against mine. But when I sit and think on it a little more, I also sense that place deep within you, the depths of the woods or water, what isn't readily accessible. I come from a similar place within myself, which is probably why we sometimes fight, frustrated at each other for not understanding, accusing each other of not really listening.

I can hardly comprehend my whole self sometimes. Thoughts and ideas rise to the surface every once in a while, looming up out of the depths, and they're familiar, I recognize them as naturally my own. But I cannot hold onto them, or at least, I can't hold onto all of them at once. (Ani says, "You wouldn't try to put the ocean in a paper cup.") Sometimes, I have to work, I have to move even within myself, to remember, to get back to them again. The way I can't hold the whole of a Celtic knotwork pattern in my mind at once, but if I trust in process, following step by step--this notch up, this notch down, this thread over, this thread under--the thing comes into being anyway, whether I can see it coming or not. Water slipping down a mountain side, gravity doing its work, grace and love finding their own way out.

I do not want to be completely understood. I am deep and wide, hungry and restless for the world. I am not one thing or the other, I am the little animal slipping through the grasses, and the grasses, and the missing space between. But I still want to be loved, even if only in small parts, because I think really, that's enough, that's all it takes. We just have to start out loving small parts of people--the little things strangers say in public places, the look of this person or that person walking down the street and how no one else looks or walks quite that way, just little things--and the rest comes of its own accord, following the natural pathways of connection laid down.

What I mean is, I can't comprehend you completely, as I can't comprehend myself. We're just too big for that, you and I. But comprehension is different from caring, from love. Maybe we can love just one small part of something, and love is like the water or the knotwork, following its own path until the all of things connects. We can love just one tiny part of something or someone, just one small part of the world--the color of this one leaf, the shape of that one cloud, the sound of this one bird--and when we love it deeply, when we enter in to that outreaching fluidity of love, suddenly we find ourselves, slipping, connecting to everything else. Gracefully, we draw ourselves into relation, into relationship.

I love you, not completely, but already and in little bits and pieces. That's a start.

1 comment:

  1. I won't sully your beautiful post with my awkward fumbling of words but just wanted to say that this

    " We just have to start out loving small parts of people--the little things strangers say in public places, the look of this person or that person walking down the street and how no one else looks or walks quite that way, just little things--and the rest comes of its own accord, following the natural pathways of connection laid down."

    in particular, brought tears to my eyes.

    Thank you