Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Amazing Grace

Scott Bradley

"Amazing grace / how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me. / I once was lost, but now I'm found, / was blind but now I see." (John Wesley?)

"For by grace are you saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." (Paul)

One amazing thing about this song is its appeal across a wide ideological spectrum. I once heard Joan Baez sing it in Paris, on the steps of Notre Dame. It speaks to some awareness in us that transcends its actual theological roots. It often pops up in even Eastern-oriented contexts.

John Wesley's story is likewise compelling. (I'm offline, can't check my facts, and can't be bothered to do so later, so you might want to.) He had been the captain of a slaving ship, so we might think him a good candidate for grace. After his conversion, he fought against slavery and founded a radical Christian group called the Methodists. Yes, they were once considered thus.

So what is this thing called 'grace'? According to Paul, it is the unmerited gift of redemption. It cannot be earned or achieved. It is bestowed unconditionally. It's easy to see how this might appeal to even us of philosophical Daoist and similar perspectives.

Yet, even when laundered of its Christian context, and the condition (?!) of faith is removed, 'grace' does not seem to fit. "Gift" implies a Giver. "Giver" implies a Doer. Yet Daoism understands reality as an unfolding wherein all things happen without being 'done'. We needn't cling to this idea; its greatest virtue consists in its open-ended ambiguity; it is provisional.

Nor do we see any need for "redemption", gifted or otherwise. True, there is the possibility of a greater temporal freedom, but all things equally unfold and return; there is Oneness, and in Oneness all is well.

Yet, 'grace' still somehow appeals. We have a sense of the giftedness of life; thankfulness arises. Trust (contentless faith) would seem to be an organic necessity. We experience wholeness and inclusion without needing to earn it. All that grace implies seems applicable, yet in a way that transcends any and every article of faith. In a way, grace seems more organically a part of philosophical Daoism then it is of religion, where conditions always seem to dwell. All things dwell in a ‘state of grace’; and thus is grace truly rendered ‘undone’ and unbestowed.

Amazing life experience! Amazing grace. Thankfulness arises. Enjoyment flourishes.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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