Expanding the Glossary with Grace
The glossary continues with another small and common word heard often in church: grace.
It is not uncommon to use grace to describe a person. A gracious person will be one of courteous good will, whereas a graceful person might be one who exhibits elegance of movement. I hope that I qualify for the former definition, but I most certainly do not fit the latter.
Of course, most people are thankfully aware of the grace period officially allowed for the fulfilment of an obligation, such as the welcomed period between the end of your monthly credit card statement and date by which a payment must be made.
Some of you may even be such special people that, when you attend a function, people will say it was graced by your presence; however, I do not think that any visitors to this site qualify for the title, Your Grace.
We are getting a little closer to the mark when we talk about being in someone’s good graces, meaning that we are regarded by that person with favour. Grace, in its religious function, says something about being in God’s good graces, for it refers to the free and unmerited favour of God.
I have a little trouble with this definition. First, it anthropomorphises God, in that it attributes God with human qualities, and assumes God has opinions about people that give rise to a choice to bestow favour. Second, it raises the ugly spectre of judgment for, if one can be favoured by God, there exists the possibility of disfavour. Many might say, “Of course!”, but this is the response that the Church, in order to control society, has cultivated over the centuries, quite in contrast to the teachings of the Jesus about God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness.
Even “infinite mercy” doesn’t really help me here. Grace, I think, is not about God’s choice to bestow favour; rather, that total acceptance is a given rather than a choice. Whomever we are, whatever we are, we are a valued (preferred to “favoured”) and valuable part of God’s creation; each of us part of that which God called “very good” (Gen.1:31).
Grace, to me, is a less-than-sufficient human attempt to speak of the Mystery, which some name ‘God,’ (another word to be explored later) in order to convey the fact that every one of us, no matter how despicable someone else may think we are, is a full beneficiary of the resources provided for life. “It rains on the just and unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45). Bestowal of blessing is not a matter of divine choice, but an innate part of the Divine, so that God cannot choose to differentiate among us, and bestow favour on one, but not another. This characteristic of Creation is proclaimed in the word, grace.
Perhaps this is why the prayer said at mealtime is called grace: because it acknowledges that all good gifts come to each one of us regardless of any consideration of merit, and so the natural response can be none other than gratitude.