The Problem with Grace
If I were to pick one word that is central to my spiritual worldview, it would be Grace. And yet, I often find it to be the most difficult to talk about. It is profound as Truth and simultaneously problematic as a concept. It is a word that points to the deep nature of Reality and our soul’s relationship with God. But any explanation I can possibly think of is problematic if taken literally and applied inappropriately.
For instance, the words, “Everything is Grace,” can be either a soothing balm or a dagger to the gut depending on our understanding and application. They can be used to minimize danger, trivialize the suffering of others, or to spiritually bypass our own journey. They can also be that deepest reminder of our inherent OK-ness, even when our body, mind, and life circumstances are not OK. They point us to the indestructible nature of Being, even in the face of death.
Ram Dass has often taught that the words, “Suffering is Grace,” are a tool that should only be applied to one’s own self. It should never be imposed outwardly on others. This is, of course, good practical advice and a safeguard from becoming a total dick, but it also points towards a deeper understanding than the words.
The semanticist Alfred Korzybski coined the now famous phrase, “The map is not the territory.” Our ideas about the Universe are not the same as the Universe itself. A map is only useful if it takes us where we want to go. “Suffering is Grace” is one map that can be used to lead us right to the heart, even in the midst of extreme pain, but only in certain circumstances.
This map can also be used to circumvent our discomfort in witnessing another’s pain. Rather than using it to let go of our own discomfort, we instead minimize the other’s suffering. But Grace is not a concept to minimize pain. It is a force erupting from Infinity that grants us the capacity to hold it.
The concept of Grace is like a finger pointing at the moon. Move the hand, and it points us astray.
Sometimes Grace is what we pray for, like a mariner raising their sail and waiting for the winds to come. Other times Grace is more like dusting off an old window to allow in the light of the Sun.
Grace is all-pervading. That means that there is nowhere that Grace does not exist. It is the fabric of Existence itself, and yet… when I think of humanity’s worst atrocities and the most traumatic experiences of the human condition, there is no way I can call any of that Grace.
These inconsistencies create a doorway into a space that is deeper than words, where I no longer need to pin concepts to intuitive understanding and where I can truly rest in the spaciousness of Grace.