Resolving the Paradox
Three houses, side-by-side, are exposed to the same natural disaster. In the case of the first house, the owner is safe and his home remains intact. In the second, the owner escapes unhurt, but the house is destroyed. And, in the third, not only is the structure brought to the ground, but the owner also loses his life. Which of these scenarios would we associate with grace?
Grace, most of the time, seems to be a common and loosely used word. This is because it really cannot be quantified or clearly defined and, hence, is somewhat of an abstract that has come about as a creation of the mind … to be used freely as part of our spiritual vocabulary.
Many of us, if we met with the person from the first scenario, might say to him, “It is the Lord’s grace. You have survived unscathed and you still have a home.” We may say to the person in the second case, “You have lost your house, but look at the Lord’s grace, you are still alive. It could have been worse. You can always rebuild and start again.” But what kind of thoughts would we have for the person in the third house?
Vague as the word is, grace, for many of us has been associated with anything positive or pleasant – wealth, health, fame, life, and so forth. To the mystics, however, breath is as much grace as would be death. Time and again, we hear and read how the Lord’s grace is continuously being showered over all. How is it then that a uniform and free-flow of grace is able to differentiate by descending upon one and not on another? How then do we resolve this paradox?
Clearly, the answer lies in our capacity, or rather development, of perception and receptivity. What we commonly term as grace is nothing more than a confusion with karma or justice. The governing law of cause and effect applies only to the individual mind and body, not to the soul. Any physical occurrence that we observe happening to us and to those around us is solely a link in the chain of events of action and reaction in motion – whether it be wealth, poverty, fame or dishonour. We just seem to selectively choose to classify the happier moments as grace, and the more trying ones as karma, perhaps to give the mind the strength and solace to bear it through. True grace, on the other hand, the saints tell us, is compassion. It is the Lord’s compassion for the soul.
Emerging from the universal truth, grace is the pure and unconditional love for every soul in the creation; it is but the Lord’s natural and helpless attraction towards it. After all, the soul is really no different, possessing the very same characteristics. It is this same compassion that keeps a plant alive in an abandoned area after months of drought, or has readied the next grain of food for a lizard trapped and cemented between two bricks at a construction site. This is the compassion that the Lord has for all forms of life, either by keeping the soul alive in its present gross body, or by allowing it to move onwards on its journey.
The difference then in the common point of view and that of the saints is that the mystic consciousness is elevated to levels where grace is witnessed and experienced in every particle and action, representative of the Lord at work in all situations. Falling short of explanations to identify it, grace is the intangible attribute of the Lord, which has to be uniquely felt by each soul. This, the saints tell us can only be done by tuning in through one’s spiritual practice.
Gradually, through meditation, as one comes to re-establish its link with the Divine, the soul begins to experience while the mind quiets down and observes what starts off as a touch to the heart. Growing to become more intense, grace makes its way through the disciple to eventually immerse and envelop him. The response to this is felt at the very core as a deep sense of gratitude, leaving him with sealed lips and a contented heart, softly echoing two words with every heartbeat – thank you … thank you … thank you.
My God, in whom is my delight, my glory and my trust,
I thank you for your gifts and beg you to preserve and keep them for me.
Keep me, too, and so your gifts will grow and reach perfection
and I shall be with you myself,
for I should not even exist if it were not by your gift.
Saint Augustine, Confessions