Today is Saturday, April 13, 2013.
“Grace is the face love wears when it meets imperfection.“
When I saw this photo on Facebook, I knew this was going to be the subject of my next blog entry. What a great topic!
In Eckankar, our spiritual year begins on October 22, for purely arbitrary reasons, and ends the following October on the 21st. Each year has a spiritual focus. Right now we are in A Year of Consecration, in which we are urged to consecrate our lives to God. Last year was The Year of Graceful Living. in which we were urged to find as many ways as possible to exercise grace in our daily lives.
When I looked around for some basic definition of grace, I realized that there are really three types: physical grace, social grace, and spiritual grace. Let’s look at each of the three.
|My cousin Wayne’s daughter, Lily
In terms of the body, physical grace has to do with ease and suppleness of movement or bearing. In order to be graceful, a person has to be comfortable with his or her body. Physical grace is something that can be developed. In order to do this, you must first ensure that your body is as healthy as possible. This means getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising: stretching exercises are just as important as calisthenics. Attention to posture is important, too. People who want to move more gracefully can take dance classes – any type of dance is fine – or acting classes. Public speaking classes can also be useful for developing poise and knowing how to move your body (or not!) as you speak. Attention to how you do the most basic things contributes to grace. Speak clearly, walk with purpose, and sit in a dignified manner, rather than flopping into a chair.
In terms of dress and make up, balance is key. Flashy clothes and particularly bold makeup don’t tend to look very graceful. It’s important that the fit of your clothes doesn’t restrict your movements or cause you to trip while walking or climbing stairs. Unless you are walking up some stairs to receive an award, you will probably not get many kudos for tripping.
In terms of inanimate things, physical grace means a charming or attractive characteristic or a generally pleasing appearance, in addition to pure functionality. Gardens, rooms, pieces of furniture, pieces of art and statuary, ships and boats, and even some cars have been described as graceful.
Social grace refers to qualities that we use in our interpersonal relationships, such as being considerate or helpful, calmness, kindness, stateliness, strength tempered by dignity, eloquence, refinement, and self-control. When people express these inner qualities in their outer deportment, they are considered graceful, or they are said to have handled a situation gracefully.
It’s easy to be graceful in our interactions with others when things are going well, but it’s more important to be able to respond with grace when things are going badly. That’s part of the meaning of the photograph above. When we respond with love and kindness to tough situations and difficult people, we can truly say we are learning to manifest the quality of grace. Grace is truly the result when love meets imperfection.
The web is full of advice on how to resign gracefully; keeping your cool seems to top the list. Tying up loose ends rather than leaving unnecessary work for your successor is a good idea, and saying a pleasant good-bye is important, too, especially if you want to get a good recommendation for your next job application or network with former colleagues in the future.
There is also a lot of advice our there for ending relationships gracefully, being a graceful winner or loser, declining a job offer, declining a social invitation, and accepting compliments – all the things many people are not very good at.
Speaking of things we are not good at, I saw a video today about a photographer who captured his wife’s cancer experience and turned it into a beautiful photo display for all to see. Some of the pictures were very hard to look at, but breathtakingly candid, and I found tears running down my face as I remembered some of my own feelings while I was in treatment for the disease. At the very end of the video they showed some pictures of people just holding his wife’s hand. The photographer, whose wife died in 2011, mentioned something that paralleled my own experience: He said that a lot of their friends and colleagues felt very awkward and didn’t know what to say. Because of this, a lot of their friends stayed away at a time when the support of one’s friends is valued most. (I had this experience, too. Lots of people refused to talk to me or even make eye contact, especially after I lost my hair.) The photographer said he included the pictures of people holding his wife’s hand in order to show people that it’s OK not to say anything, that it’s fine to just hold someone’s hand and support them in any way you can. It’s important that we all learn how to “be there” for people as gracefully as we can, to rise above our own feelings of helplessness and fear, in order to comfort and support others.
Grace under pressure is especially admired. Michael Hill, a professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Iowa, wrote a lovely tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., who acted with grace and dignity in the face of the endless indignities that he and other African Americans suffered on a daily basis. Acting with love and kindness, albeit with firmness and resolve, is always graceful. Dr. King never seemed to forget the Golden Rule, treating others as he wished to be treated. His insistence on dignity, order, and nonviolence gave power to his civil rights protests, because people were not able to dismiss them so readily as mere rabble-rousing. In fact, Dr. King’s role model for this was Mohandas Gandhi, who led the people of India in a more-or-less peaceful revolution against the British Raj.
When we speak of spiritual grace or divine grace, we are talking about God’s unconditional love and help in our lives, unconditional because we don’t have to do anything or be anything to deserve it. Carolyn Myss wrote, “Grace is a power that comes in and transforms a moment into something better.” Above, I mentioned that social grace is what results when love meets imperfection. I would submit that spiritual grace is the same thing, on a grand scale. Divine grace is the action of God’s unconditional love showered upon every Soul, creating opportunities for us all to grow and change, to turn over a new leaf, to transcend our physical and social programming, and to serve all life to the best of our abilities.
How can we reflect God’s grace in our own lives? How can we live gracefully? None of us is perfect, but we can all grow in grace. We can respond with love to all situations, especially the ones that are the most difficult for us. :-)