Finding Grace

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Enlightenment is the moment we realize we are made of love.
At that moment all fear of living disappears. For grace comes to the heart
when it realizes what it is made of and what it has risen from.
 – Mark Nepo

I have just returned from five days in Taos, New Mexico where I sat everyday in a circle of nine sages pondering the mystery of grace. Certainly we didn’t think of ourselves as sages, but as I look back on things I learned from this group, I began to see each person in it — at one time or another — as a sage. Bill Plotkin, in his book, Nature and the Human Soul, wisely says, “A healthy individual of any life stage adds a special and particular quality to his community just by being part of it. In the case of the Sage, his presence affords the gift of grace… By grace, I mean the influence or agency of the Mystery.” Plotkin goes on to say, “The presence of a Sage evokes in others a visceral experience of the Mystery at work in the world, including intimately right here among us.”

There are many attempts to define this Mystery, of course. The world’s wisdom traditions are full of descriptions and definitions of the Mystery, and the wisdom traditions also tell us that all of these attempts fall short. But they do wake us up to the necessity of paying attention, the necessity of waking up to the workings of Mystery that are everywhere. So we sat in our circle everyday, much of the time in meditation and the rest of it in some form of contemplation. We were intentionally looking at grace—the influence of Mystery in our lives.

What did I notice as I meditated and contemplated on grace? I was in Taos so I saw grace in the icy grandeur of Taos Mountain, and I heard it in the croaking of ravens. I felt it in the cup of steaming tea a shopkeeper handed to me as I walked into her store from the cold. I heard it in the wise counsel from a friend that came to me in the form of a casual conversation in the nick of time you might say. For the very next day I received an email that required a decision from me about an allocation of my time next year. The answer to this query was not at all clear to me until the conversation with my friend.

I felt the presence of grace in the giving and receiving of kindness and care that were offered to me in the healthy and abundant meals served to us. I found grace in the heirloom green pumpkin grown in the Taos Pueblo garden that served as a table decoration one day and the next as the main ingredient in a nourishing and delicious soup. Most forcefully I felt grace in the blessing bestowed on me by a young student who was selling chocolate for his school. He said to me “God bless you” as I handed him a donation, and as I walked away he shouted after me “God bless you the very most highest!” I walk in that blessing still because it was so freely given and because being on retreat, I had escaped the distractions of busyness and so had the wherewithal to openly receive that blessing and all the others I have mentioned.

As we sat in our circle, meditating and discussing all the various definitions of grace, it became more and more obvious that grace and love really are the same thing. Perhaps they are manifestations of each other. But they spring from the same Source — the Source that created each of us. As a Christian I believe this Mystery that created us is Love (1John 4:8). The theologian, Alan Jones, says that we were made by love for love. This is why I feel enlightened and empowered by Mark Nepo’s statement. We come from love and we return to love, but I often forget that because of this I, too, am love now — in this
very moment — and so are you. The loving presence of the nine sages in our circle brought this Mystery home to me, as Plotkin says, at a visceral level.

How to practice grace? Accept that you are love, and practice the giving and receiving of it. Through that practice you will manifest the Sage in you who “renders our world less confusing, ambiguous, chaotic or daunting” by opening hearts to grace.