What’s the Word?

                               What’s the Word?  

                                    By Al Murdach                                                       

     This is the first of a series exploring today’s meaning and significance of some important religious words from the Christian tradition. Today’s word is:

                                                             No. 1      Grace

 

     Historically in Christian usage, the word “Grace” referred to the unmerited favor bestowed on humans by a loving God.  It is a word that once provided the subject of much theological conflict, but which can now be employed with less difficulty to better understand our relationship with God or whatever we choose to call our Ultimate Principal in life.  As Peter Fransen points out, “grace…is a created gift which brings (us) an inner strength, a lifting urge, a yearning for God.”  For those who feel no attraction to the concept of “God”, we can say that grace is a force implanted within us that impels us toward the Divine.

     How is grace implanted in us?  That’s a question that theologians have puzzled about for centuries.  The traditional Christian position is that grace is implanted by Baptism, but how about those who don’t recognize official Baptism as necessary or important?  To meet this objection Catholics sometimes speak of a “Baptism of Desire”, meaning that those of us who seek earnestly seek the truth and the divine will come to its realization simply because this is what we sincerely desire with all our heart.  On their part, Protestants might say that grace is basically something born within us through hope, not through a church ceremony. Whatever the emphasis, it is clear that grace is now increasingly viewed in Christian circles not as a state or status, but as an inclination, a force leading us toward the holy that takes root in our inner beings because, ultimately, it is not we who seek God or the Divine, but it is God or the Divine who seeks us out of love and compassion. 

     Fransen quotes two famous aphorisms by St. Augustine.  In the first, God says to us:

“Because you have loved me you have made me lovable”. 

     In the second, we say to God: “You have made us and turned us toward you and our heart finds no peace until it rests in you”. 

     In both of these statements, God or the Divine is viewed as a kind of “untimate ground” of our being that forever calls us to oneness with its power, ultimately the power of love.

     Understood in this way, the word “Grace” need not be a source of contention or disapproval.  Rather it is instead a perception, an inclination, a ready means with which we constantly try to plumb our continuing relationship with those forces for good that surround our daily lives and in which, as has been said, we “live, move, and have our being.”

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