Well, I’ve been lazy.
Bec’s mom asked me to define grace. Here is what I wrote back to her:
I think there is the theological concept of grace, which is sort of wrapped up with mercy, being the divine act of not giving someone what they deserve in payment for a sin they have committed, but I don’t really like to think of grace that way too much because it seems, then, like something you Lord over someone. It seems to cheapen it because you could then say, “Remember that time when I let whatever transgression you committed go?” I think real grace, Biblical or otherwise is so much more than that. Possibly the best way for me to describe the way I think of grace is that it is the anitthesis of shame. Too many of us live in shame all the time for whatever reason.
I was talking with one of my favorite professors the other day and we were talking about this idea in regards to people who had been abused (mentally, physically, sexually, etc.), women who have had abortions, etc. and the way people carry their shame—shame we bring on ourselves, shame we dole out to each other, shame that is part of societal structure, shame that is preached from pulpits, delivered from political lecterns, and spoon fed to school children by their teachers. It seems that shame helps keep people in their hierarchical places. Those of us who can usurp shame with grace break free from those cultural bindings. Grace turns shame upside down. I don’t want this to seem like I don’t think there are consequences for actions. There are. But consequences are one thing and life-long shame is another.
An act of grace could include the simplest thing like taking in your neighbor’s garbage can, talking kindly to a sales clerk, looking people in the eye and saying hello, not throwing a fit at the barista who screws up your coffee AGAIN!, caring about someone who is difficult to care about, or offering your expertise or time to someone else for no good reason. I do think the theological idea figures in to all of this because when we are doing these acts, which are also kindnesses, we are in effect heaping love and mercy onto another person.
Our world would be much better off if we practices “charis” or “hesed” every day as much as possible. “Charis,” the Greek that is usually translated as grace really means goodness, kindness, beauty, or even human creativity, and “hesed,” the Hebrew equivalent, is usually translated as compassion or loving-kindness. Both Biblical terms are used in situations where God empowers the act of grace in the person who is enacting it, or it is an act that God performs toward humans.
I would by no means limit grace to a Christian concept, though; the ideas of grace and compassion abound in almost all religious writings I have read. I think if there is one theological idea that is nearly universal, even among those with no theological ascription, the idea of grace is it. I mean, it seems to be an idea even my atheist friends can get behind.
Also, the great interest in grace is upsurging because I have been trying to write a creative nonfiction piece for about three years that has grace as its main theme. I’m collecting stories of grace form people and I have some pretty good ones to work in.
And, a large portion of my dissertation deals with grace and shame and the way Black women writers use preaching/healing figures with various forms of authority (juridical, ancestral, Biblical, and hybrid) in order to bring grace instead of shame to the Black female body.
Also, I try really hard to live this way, and I am trying to become more conscientious of it as I work with more and more students. If I believe something, I think I should behave in that manner. Obviously, it doesn’t work every day, but I think I am getting better at it.
So, there you have it: my thoughts on grace. I need to work on this essay over break, but I also HAVE to get my dissertation proposal finished.
This is for two days, the best I can remember:
I am thankful for people who challenge me to think about things in new ways.
Exercise: walked the dogs, ran 3 miles, walked from Burris to RB, etc.
Food: bananas, juices, cheese sandwich, too much pizza, salad, apples, clementines, cheese, pretzels, milk