Recently, I had lunch with five friends from my ‘Writers Group’. As a group of writers we discuss various issues, often related, sometimes unrelated to what one of us is writing about. Mostly we are novelists and so sometimes I think we seek to have discussions that unintentionally take us from our own long and tedious journeys with our manuscripts. Anyway, we were ‘chewing the fat ‘ about personal characteristics and ways of being in the world, when the topic of ‘grace’ emerged. We all had a different take on what the word or notion of grace actually is. Curiously, we found ourselves fascinated with the possibilities.
For many people, grace clearly has religious connotations, for others it might mean a state of mind or even a particular manner by which one can express themselves. For some individuals even, grace has overtones of power. Graceful movements are also often attributed to dance and ballet and even general personal elegance. Grace is a word often used in many different contexts and situations, so pardon us for getting caught up in the confusion.
A couple of months ago whilst travelling near Cooma in New South Wales, I noticed a large sign on a rather insignificant and small church. It read, ‘God Gives Grace to the Humble’! I have to admit to not being an overly religious person but when I read that verse it struck an emotional chord. I loved the combination of the six words, the soft lilt and sound as I spoke them to myself, they held meaning to me well beyond what I can explain! So, I looked up the text in the bible and it seems there are several references (I’m entering dangerous territory now as I don’t know much about the bible!) Okay I say, ‘ let’s see what this is all about?’
In James 4:6 it says: God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. In Proverbs 3:34 it says: Surely he scorneth the scorners: but giveth grace to the lowly. So this is what the church sign was sort of saying. Sure, perhaps there was a bit of modern-day license and refinement of the message (I’ll be in trouble again because I don’t really know this but…!). So, it seems that the teachings from the church say that if we are humble, God rewards us with the gift of Grace. Yes I know, my religious understanding lacks sophistication but I’ll remain humble and curious and beg forgiveness if I have this wrong!
Can one have grace without being humble? It seems not. Are these states of mind necessarily linked only to being a Christian or any other religion? Not necessarily. Can one be humble and act gracefully to others from purely a humanistic position? Well, I think so. It seems that the teachings of christianity are ways geared towards instructing and guiding. Telling stories to illustrate the point, but, so too is applying respect for the human condition. However, I have to admit to being challenged by the biblical verse on the church wall. It allowed me to apply a humanistic position to the notion of grace and humility. I rather love the notion of humility being rewarded. Whether it is rewarded by God or by a sense of wellbeing is immaterial to me.
Grace is a word (as well as an unconscious notion or state?) that sounds like velvet, it washes over and smooths and soothes, it sounds soft and gentle, and is beautiful when whispered (try it!). Can grace belong or be gained by anyone? I certainly hope so but it seems we have to work for it. If we want to have some grace in our lives it appears that we have to be humble, be more conscious of what we do and say in order to earn just a little smidgen of grace. So, grace is hard to find maybe!
I also wonder if when we ‘blot our copy book’, do we lose already accumulated grace? Yep, I think so. But, what I really like about this whole area of humility and grace is; that we are personally and individually responsible for it. Yes, I alone have choices about how to act. Doesn’t that mean that as human beings we can choose to be humble (or act in ways that illustrate humility) and therefore earn our own grace? For instance, I am responsible for and in charge of being humble, generous, respectful, thoughtful or even just plain courteous. Clearly, we have choices over how we behave to others. Also, if we believe that grace is a state of wellbeing resulting from humble behaviour and we choose not to be humble, then I guess we suffer the consequences. . .no grace!