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Welcoming Grace

Our capacity to love and hence our will to grow is nurtured, not only by the love of our parents during childhood, but also throughout our lives by grace, or God's love. This is a powerful force, external to our own consciousness, which operates through the agency of our own unconscious, through additional mediums that we do not understand and through loving people other than our parents.

It is because of grace that people are able to transcend the traumas of loveless parenting and become themselves loving individuals who have risen far above their parents on the scale of human evolution.

Why, then, do only some people grow spiritually and evolve beyond the circumstances of their parentage? Grace is available to everyone as we are all cloaked in the love of God, but most of us choose not to heed the call of grace and reject its help. Christ's assertion, "Many are called, but few are chosen" could be translated as, "All of us are called to and by grace, but few of us choose to listen to the call".

The question then becomes: Why is it that so few of us choose to heed the call of grace? Why do most of us actually resist grace? Grace provides us with a certain unconscious resistance to illness. How is it, then, that we seem to possess an almost equal resistance to health? The answer to these question has already been given. It is our laziness, our submission to entropy. Just as grace is the force that pushes us to ascend the ladder of human evolution, so it is that entropy causes us to resist that force, to stay at the comfortable easy rung where we are now, or even to descend to less and less demanding forms of existence.

Peace (but not as the world gives)

However, the call to grace is a promotion, a call to a position of higher responsibility and power. To be aware of grace, to personally experience its constant presence, to know one's nearness to God, is to know and constantly experience an inner tranquillity and peace that few people possess.

This knowledge and awareness brings with it an enormous responsibility. For to experience one's closeness to God is also to experience the obligation to be God, to be the agent of his power and love. The call to grace is a call to a life of caring, a life of service. It is a call out of spiritual childhood into adulthood.

"Reflect now, how our Lord himself spoke of peace. He said to his disciples, 'My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you'. Did he mean peace as we think of it? .... If you ask that, remember then that he said also, 'Not as the world gives, give I unto you'. So then he gave to his disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives."

So, with the peace of grace come agonising responsibilities, duties and obligations. It is not surprising that so many well qualified people have no desire to assume the mantle.

Psychotherapists are familiar with the fact that people are routinely terrified by mental health. A major task of psychotherapy is not only to bring patients to the experience of mental health but also, through a mixture of consolation, reassurance and sternness, to prevent them from running away from that experience once they have arrived at it.

One aspect of this fearfulness is legitimate: the fear that if we become powerful we might misuse power.

If people progress far enough in psychotherapy they will eventually leave behind the feeling that they cannot cope with a merciless and overwhelming world. One day they will realise that the have it in their power to do what ever they want.

The realisation of this freedom is frightening. If it is experienced as a call to grace, then the response is likely to be, "O Lord, I fear I am not worthy of your trust in me". This fear is part of our diligence and love, useful in our self-governance in that it prevents the abuse of power. However, it should not be so great as to prevent us from heeding the call to grace and assuming the power of which we are capable. Some of us who have been called to grace wrestle for years with our fearfulness before we are able to transcend it so as to accept our own godliness.

Accepting the call to grace

We may fear the abuse of power, but for most of us it is not the central issue in our resistance to grace. We believe that the freedom and power of adulthood are due to us, but we have little taste for adult responsibility and self-discipline. We seem to need to have powers above us to blame for our condition, be they parents, society or fate.

To rise to an exalted position of such power that we have no one to blame but ourselves would be a fearful one were it not for God's presence with us. We would be terrified by our aloneness. Even then, many of us have little capacity to tolerate the aloneness of power so we reject God's presence rather than experience mastery over our own lives. We want peace without the aloneness of power. We want the self-confidence of adulthood without having to grow up.

The process of psychological maturation is inseparable from spiritual growth. The call to grace is ultimately a summons to be one with God; the call to total adulthood is a summons to greater and greater responsibility. Very few of us answer unambivilantly and unhesitatingly.

We are accustomed to imagining the experience of conversion or a sudden call to grace as an "Oh, joy!" phenomenon. More often than not, it will be an "Oh, shit!" phenomenon. At the moment we finally listen to the call we may say, "Oh, thank you, Lord"; or we may say, "O Lord, I am not worthy", or "O Lord, do I have to?"

Mystery and paradox

So the fact that "many are called, but few are chosen" is easily explainable in view of the difficulties inherent in responding to the call of grace. How is it, then, that the few who do heed the call to grace? What distinguishes them from the many? We don't really know.

We may come from wealthy, cultured or educated backgrounds or from impoverished, superstitious or deprived ones. We may have had basically loving parents, but we are as likely to have experienced deprivation of genuine parental affection and concern. We may come to psychotherapy with minor difficulties of adjustment or with overwhelming mental illness. We may be old or young. We may heed the call to grace suddenly and with apparent ease or we may fight against it, only gradually and painfully giving way to it.

There is no way for a psychotherapist to predict which of their clients will respond to therapy, which will respond with significant but still partial growth, or which will respond, miraculously, growing all the way into grace. Christ himself spoke of the unpredictability of grace when he said to Nicodaemus: "Just as you can hear the wind but can't tell where it comes from or where it will go next, so it is with the Spirit. We do not know on whom he will next bestow his life from heaven" (John 3:8 - Living Bible). Much as we have been able to say about the phenomena of grace, in the end we are left having to acknowledge the mystery.

Paradoxically, whether or not we become blessed by grace is a matter of our choice. Essentially, the truth is that grace is earned. Yet, it is not that way at all. We do not come to grace; grace comes to us. Try as we might to obtain grace, it may elude us. We may not seek it, yet it will find us. Consciously we may avidly desire the spiritual life but then discover all manner of stumbling blocks in our way. Or, we may have little taste for the spiritual life but find we are vigorously called in spite of ourselves.

While on one level we do choose whether or not to heed the call of grace, on another it seems clear that God is the one who does the choosing. The common experience of those who have achieved a state of grace, on whom "this new life from heaven" has been bestowed, is one of amazement at their condition. They do not feel that they have earned it. While they may be aware of the particular goodness of their nature, they do not ascribe their nature to their own will; rather, they distinctly feel that the goodness of their nature has been created by hands wiser and more skilled than their own. Those who are closest to grace are the most aware of the mysterious character of the gift they have been given.

We can't resolve this paradox. Perhaps the best we can say is that while we cannot will ourselves to grace, we can by will open ourselves to its miraculous coming. We can prepare ourselves to be a fertile ground, a welcoming place. If we can make ourselves into totally disciplined, wholly loving people, then though we may be ignorant of theology and give little thought to God, we will have prepared ourselves well for the coming of grace. Conversely, the study of theology is a relatively poor method of preparation and, by itself, completely useless.

The existence of grace can be of considerable assistance to those who have chosen to travel the difficult path of spiritual growth. This awareness will facilitate their journey in at least three ways:

  • it will help them to take advantage of grace along the way;
  • it will give them a surer sense of direction; and,
  • it will provide encouragement.

The paradox that we both choose grace and are chosen by grace is the essence of the phenomenon of serendipity. This was defined as "the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for".

The same phenomenon is routinely demonstrated by the way clients use dreams in psychotherapy. To use dreams fully we must work to be aware of their value and to take advantage of them when they come to us. We must also work sometimes at not seeking them or expecting them. We must let them be true gifts.

So it is with grace. The same paradoxical approach should be taken to all the other forms: sudden insights, premonitions and all other synchronistic and serendipitous events. And also with love. Everyone wants to be loved, but first we must make ourselves loveable. We do this by becoming ourselves loving, disciplined people. If we seek to be loved, if we expect to be loved, this cannot be accomplished; we will be dependent and grasping, not genuinely loving. But when we nurture ourselves and others without a primary concern of finding reward, then we will have become loveable and the reward of being loved, which we have not sought, will find us. So it is with human love and so it is with God's love.

Let us redefine serendipity not as a gift itself, but as a learned capacity to recognise and use the gifts of grace which are given to us from beyond the realm of our conscious will. With this capacity, we will find that our journey of spiritual growth is guided by the invisible hand and unimaginable wisdom of God with infinitely greater accuracy than that of which our unaided conscious will is capable. So guided, the journey becomes faster.

Our own journey

The journey of spiritual growth requires courage, initiative and independence of thought and action. While the words of the prophets and the assistance of grace are available, the journey must still be travelled alone. No words can be said, no teaching can be taught that will relieve spiritual travellers from the necessity of picking their own ways, working out with effort and anxiety their own paths through the unique circumstances of their own lives towards the identification of their individual selves with God.

Even when we truly understand this, the journey of spiritual growth is still so lonely and difficult that we become discouraged. However, once we see the reality of grace, our understanding of ourselves as meaningless and insignificant is shattered. The fact that there exists beyond ourselves and our conscious will a powerful force that nurtures our growth and evolution is enough to turn our notions of self-insignificance upside down. For the existence of this force (once we see it) indicates with incontrovertibly certainty that our human spiritual growth is of the utmost importance to something greater than ourselves. This something we call God. The existence of grace is prima facie evidence not only of the reality of God, but also of the reality of God's will is devoted to the growth of the individual human spirit.

We live our lives in the eye of God, not at the periphery but at the centre of his vision. We are his concern. It is probable that the universe as we know it is but a single stepping stone towards the entrance to the Kingdom of God. But we are hardly lost in the universe. To the contrary, the reality of grace indicates humanity to be at the centre of the universe. This time and space exist for us to travel through.

"The human race is in the midst of making an evolutionary leap. Whether or not we succeed in making that leap is our personal responsibility - each one of us."

The universe, this stepping stone has been laid down to prepare a way for us. But we ourselves must step across it, step by step. Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we are being welcomed. What more could we ask?

Exploration and Discussion

1. If the box from one side of the page to the other marked on one side with "I want none of it" and the other side with "I am open to all of it" represents your response to grace, at which point between these two extremes would you place yourself?

I want none of it <> I am open to all of it

2. Why did you choose to place yourself there?

3. How are you welcoming grace?

4. "We live our lives in the eye of God, and not at the periphery but at the centre of his vision." What feelings does this statement produce in you? (You may like to express them in the form of a poem or prayer.)

5. Did the exercise at (4) make you change your mind about your placing of your position for (1)? If you wish to make a change, do so.

I want none of it <> I am open to all of it

6. What are the reasons for your adjustment?