Friday, May 02, 2008

Grace and Disgrace

I’ve been pondering my writing last week about “disgrace” as it applies to the Bush Administration.

It all seemed so easy. Too easy.

To understand the import of disgrace, not just the Bush Administration’s, I’ve considered the meaning of its seeming opposite, “grace,” and asked others to do the same.

Near the end of the silence of our small Quaker meeting, attended by only four last Sunday, I decided to see what the others thought of “grace” — and “disgrace.”

We let the silence work on us before we spoke.

Two strands emerged.

Grace is a form of love or mercy that comes from outside. One of our group shared that he had had an addiction that seemed to have been swept aside in an act of grace. “I had nothing to do with it,” he said. “It was a gift.”

John Newton’s moving hymn “Amazing Grace” captures the spirit of grace as an outside force. The idea of being “lost, but now … found.”

Disgrace, we suggested, is something we bring upon ourselves. We are quite responsible for it. I thought of Bush and Cheney again, but also of the potential we all have to disgrace ourselves.

The other strand is that grace heals. Disgrace destroys.

Many live with a lack of grace but are not disgraced. They are born into, or cast into dire situations of powerlessness or poverty that shape what we might judge to be disgraceful actions. When we ask what we might have done in the same situation (hunger, extreme poverty, war), we are often led to the notion of “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Saying “grace” at meals reminds us of that idea. We are graced with this food; pray for (and assist) those who are not. Again, “There but for the grace of God….”

The other aspect of grace has to do with a wholeness and integrity. To handle something with grace— gracefully. Only those who have been graced can manifest it. We talk of “natural grace” for instance. A grace that comes from nature. There is no such thing as “manufactured grace.”

Those who seek material excess or a lust for power or act out of a sense of self-righteousness have segregated themselves from nature (and God, if you will). They lack grace; they have disgraced themselves.

And yet we must ask: How did they fall into disgrace? Was it through their own doing? You quickly come to the debate over free will and destiny. Are Bush and Cheney and their disastrous policies the inevitable results of their circumstances, or did they have the freedom not to act as they did? And what of the Osama bin Ladins or Robert Mugabes of the world? What of those who were born into prejudice or anger or fear?

Might we ourselves, placed in their shoes, be vulnerable to the same forces? Are we so free of prejudice ourselves? Are we free of complicity? Of playing along with disgrace? Have we been graced yet? Is someone looking at us and saying, “There but for the grace of God….”?

We are faced with a choice ourselves. I’ve concluded that before we can receive grace, we must be open to it. Can we forgive? Can we forgive ourselves? Can we reach out to those harmed and suffering?

Can we be the willing recipients of grace so that we can become its agents?

On-line definitions for “grace” and “disgrace.”

grace (grs) n.

1. Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.
2. A characteristic or quality pleasing for its charm or refinement.
3. A sense of fitness or propriety.
a. A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill.
b. Mercy; clemency.
5. A favor rendered by one who need not do so; indulgence.
6. A temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve.
7. Graces Greek & Roman Mythology Three sister goddesses, known in Greek mythology as Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia, who dispense charm and beauty.
a. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people.
b. The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.
c. An excellence or power granted by God.
9. A short prayer of blessing or thanksgiving said before or after a meal.

dis·grace (ds-grs) n.

1. Loss of honor, respect, or reputation; shame.
2. The condition of being strongly and generally disapproved.
3. One that brings disfavor or discredit: Your handwriting is a disgrace.
tr.v. dis·graced, dis·grac·ing, dis·grac·es
1. To bring shame or dishonor on: disgraced the entire community.
2. To deprive of favor or good repute; treat with disfavor: The family was disgraced by the scandal.

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