The popular song “All About That Bass” has been stuck in my head for weeks now, but with slightly different lyrics. I keep hearing:
All about that grace, ’bout that grace, no trouble! All about that grace,’bout that grace…
Maybe it’s because “grace” is our Soul Matters theme for November and it’s been on my mind. What is grace, anyway? How can it mean moving in a lovely way (a graceful dancer) or “God’s favor” or “saying a prayer, especially at meal time” all at once? It seems like these words are very different, how can they come from the same root? That root, traced back almost 5500 years, is gwere which means “to favor or praise.” The word grew to describe things that are pleasing, beautiful, and inspire gratitude.
Of course, the word became associated with religion and with some people being favored or chosen, while others were not. “Saved by grace” became synonymous for being one of the chosen: those who, by virtue of their privilege and power, were seen to be God’s favorites. This kind of limited grace, sometimes called Partialism or Calvinism (after John Calvin), is not what we, as Unitarian Universalists mean, when we use the word. For Hosea Ballou and other early Universalists, a loving God could never abandon some of his children, so grace must be available to all.
As Universalism and Unitarianism evolved in parallel, but not identical ways, more and more of us moved away from traditional theology, yet many of us aren’t willing to give up on the concept of grace. I think that is because we need a word for the times in our lives when good things happen and we feel undeserving and grateful. That’s my working definition of grace.
I find grace at work in my life and in our congregation quite often. People reach out generously to help each other and to make things happen. They don’t wait to see if someone is “deserving” before offering a hug or a ride or a shoulder to cry on. That is a kind of grace that we share with each other, in small ways and large.
Then there are the BIG graces. When the brakes fail, but we somehow stop safely, avoiding an accident. When the storm comes right through the middle of everything, but there is no damage. Grace is what we acknowledge when we whisper “thank you” to the universe because we feel grateful that what we thought would happen–what seemed fair or obvious or inevitable in that moment–didn’t happen. Or something better than we could have wished for did. Those moments are moments of grace.
May our hearts and minds be open and loving as we spend November exploring and practicing grace. You can find this month’s discussion guide here.
If you are curious about how the Soul Matters themes can continue to enrich and deepen our community at Tree of Life, you may want to join me at Moving from Theme-Based Worship to Theme-Based Church, a workshop with Soul Matters founder Scott Tayler, on November 15th at Countryside Church in Palatine, IL. Click on the link to learn more and register.