Some of you have been with The Way of the River since the very beginning in 2015, and some just arrived this week! Welcome to all. Here is a slightly updated edition from March of 2018. Enjoy!
I have written about being “nice” at the expense of our own feelings and well-being. (Let me know if you need another copy of that Reflections and I’ll be happy to send it to you personally.)
This week, I’m sort of writing about Cinderella. That is to say, I am writing about what “nice” wishes it could be, what it tries to be, what it impersonates. Nice is the unhappy, grasping sister, but there is another one who is real but kept hidden away, who has been given the glass slipper, and whose foot fits just right.
Graciousness. Grace. That which is given, unearned, whether to do, to be, or to receive.
Grace in religious contexts is generally considered to be an unearned blessing from the Divine. Something that arrives unexpectedly, something like a random act of kindness from the Universe.
There is also the quality of physical grace. When I think of grace, I think not only of the movement of athletes or dancers or actors. I think also of how people walk, hold their bodies when in conversation, what they do with their hands, and how those actions invite people into deeper relationship.
And even more relevant, the movements of someone who makes others feel at ease. The tender pouring of tea for someone who has come in from the cold, and the inclusion of a few cookies/biscuits while you’re at it. The embrace that is welcoming without being an imposition. Speaking clearly and well without taking up all the air in the room.
And then there is simply the grace of human giving. This is the grace that knows that one does not merely say to the grieving, “Tell me if you need anything.” Grace offers, “How about I come over at 6 tomorrow and do some laundry and make you dinner.” Grace in this case may not even take no for an answer, but just show up with the lasagna, a stack of mindless magazines, and a laundry basket.
The quality of grace puts others at ease and lets them know they are loved. Grace lets them know that no part of them makes them unworthy of love.
Nevertheless, grace has the boundaries that niceness lacks. Grace can say no, gently but firmly, and grace can take care of the one who brings it and inhabits it.
Finally, grace is a way of being, and of accepting the gifts that are given to one and sharing those gifts kindly and well with the rest of the world. It is giving without thought of reciprocity, not out of a sense of martyrdom or resentment, but rather because grace comes easily when it comes.
After all, the characteristic of grace par excellence is that it is a gift. It is a quality of personhood that may be practiced and that may grow, but it is ultimately a gift both to the one who shares it and to the ones who receive it.
And yet, as I read this issue of Reflections in 2021, I am so aware of all the people who are practicing grace in this time of pandemic. Who have made a decision to make their lives into gifts. Who are leaving presents of food or toys or clothing on their neighbors’ steps. Who are working in positions that save the world and move the needle of justice, help bend the moral arc of the universe one agonizing click at a time. In this sense, grace is more than a gift, it is a spiritual practice, and one which benefits all who offer it and all who receive it whether they know they’re getting it at all.
I am so aware that this post is only the beginning of a conversation. Please post your thoughts to The Way of the River Facebook Community (and join if you use that platform and aren’t among us already!).
Much love and contemplation-
2021 PS – I still have room in two daytime spiritual deepening groups. For more information about these supportive, tender, challenging, brave spaces, see my page on the topic, and feel free to schedule a free call to talk about whether or not one might be the right fit for you.
2021 PPS – I mentioned The Way of the River Facebook Community above. I invite those of you who use Facebook to join us, especially for our regular weekly practice of acknowledge our own “beautiful faces and complex natures,” as the writer Annie Dillard has said. It is a powerful and challenging practice, and one I invite you all into.