Few words have been subjected to as much theological wrangling as the word “grace.” And all of the attempts to analyze and define it have done nothing to bring anyone closer to the experience.
It reminds me of a Saturday Night Live episode years ago where Dan Aykroyd parodied the then late-night talk show host, Tom Snyder. Playing Snyder, Aykroyd interviews the famous Blues singer, Ray Charles. He asks him in the overly earnest, pseudo-intellectual style that Snyder was known for, “Just what are the Blues, and who gets them?”
We all have someone for whom we hold the highest esteem, someone whom we respect more than anyone else in the world. Imagine standing next to that person, feeling his or her full attention on you and expressing toward you an absolute affectionate regard. This person embodies your highest ideals, so their unqualified approval gives you an overwhelming feeling of affirmation. Your highest hopes become immediate possibilities; you feel as though you could accomplish anything. It is as though the entire universe is for you.
We have all had some version of this experience, whether a first-grade teacher, a grandparent, or maybe even Dan Aykroyd. Who knows? The point is, what did it feel like? What did it feel like to bask in his or her glow? And perhaps more importantly, what were the conditions that made the experience possible? Knowing the conditions will make the experience of grace available to you wherever and whenever you need it.
Placing your favorite person high above you, as in the examples above, creates a kind of potential energy. They are in a “high” place, and you are in a “low” place—the energy is going to flow towards you. This is why it is so important to hold God in your consciousness as an all-loving, benevolent being. If you see Him or Her as a punishing dictator probing you for every little (or big) thing you have ever done wrong, grace will be hard to find.
This kind of god is strictly the creation of theologians and has no resemblance to God at all. There is nothing so bad in your resume that will cause God to withhold love. Nothing. The only person who is withholding love is you, which only makes you want to hide. God’s only desire is to retrieve us from the mess we have created for ourselves. That’s it. Punishment, revenge, and hatred do not exist in the mind of God. These are things we have made up, and we have projected them onto God.
What about karma? Don’t we have to “pay” for our wrongdoings? Unfortunately, the Law of Karma, as it is understood by Eastern mystics, has been corrupted by our notions of a wrathful god. More often than not, karma is a thinly veiled euphemism for revenge. “What goes around comes around,” means God is gonna get you for what you did to ME.
In actuality, karma is part of the Creator’s great love for us, in that it’s a teaching tool designed for our good. If our mistakes had no repercussions, we would never learn from them. The purpose is learning, not punishment. This is a profoundly different understanding of this universal law.
As in the example of your favorite person showering you with benevolence, you have to be in their presence in order to have that experience. To feel divine grace, you have to be in the presence of God. But usually, when you need it most, God’s presence can seem remote. This is where faith comes in (another grossly misunderstood word)—you have to know that God is there, and you have to know that there is not one shred of vindictiveness in God at all.
Faith is knowing, and like grace it comes from God. If God feels remote, imagine calling God on the phone. It would be kinda like calling Dan Aykroyd. You wouldn’t have to actually be in his presence to feel his love. All you need is the connection. Once that’s established, the power will flow. It has to.