Friday, April 2, 2010

On Grace

Amazing Grace is probably my most favorite song of all time. I have lots of favorite songs that are favorites for different reasons, but I always come back to Amazing Grace when I need comfort or need to unwind from stressful situations. Recently, this song has become something of a meditation for me that I will play and sing over and over again when I need to clear my mind.

I've often wondered about my fascination with this song. It's one of the few gospel songs I've maintained a liking for since leaving Christianity behind. Ironically, it was never in Mormon hymnbooks when I was growing up, and while this is somewhat beside the point, I remember feeling somewhat guilty that I liked a non-approved hymn so thoroughly. At any rate, my love for the hymn now stems from a combination of what I feel is a beautiful, versatile melody and from my need to internalize the song in ways that are meaningful to me even in my atheism.

I was discussing atheist spirituality with a friend about a month ago. As usual, he was much more on the ball about writing a post, but finally, here is my own addition to the discussion, albeit slightly more focused on one concept.

I hesitate to explain too much of my former, Mormon views about grace, mostly because I don't want to bog down this post. But I feel a little background would be helpful. Mormons believe grace will save you after you have tried your hardest to be a righteous person and, according to some interpretations I've heard, gone through the temple and received your endowment. As a Mormon, I was always led to believe that other brands of Christianity depended too much on grace for salvation. I was under the impression that other Christians could be horrible people if they wanted to but because of their concept of grace could still receive salvation if they had had their own revelatory experience of being saved or born again. Shortly before my exit from Mormonism, I learned about the concept of grace being something like a boost to help you to God since as a mortal, your efforts to be perfect would ultimately fall short.

It's that last definition that I've co-opted and tinkered with for my own use in how I try to deal with my fellow humans. The guiding principle of my life right now is accepting the ambiguity that is life. We humans are never going to get everything right. How many of us have done something with the best of intentions, only to watch ourselves cause a loved one pain when we were sure we'd be helping them? One could argue for the goodness of our action from our intentions or for the inadequacy of our action from the pain it caused our loved one. But really, the situation is ambiguous. You can't really pin down how bad or good it was. All you're left with is the reality of the pain caused and the regret at having failed someone. For me, this is where grace comes in.

Grace as I currently define it is my own acknowledgment, acceptance of and forgiveness for mine and others' shortcomings. It's that boost I offer to myself and others when I know the disappointment we've caused each other was unintentional.

This definition fits in making Amazing Grace a good metaphor for my life. The thought that my loved ones will forgive me for my foibles, "how sweet the sound." And while I have no hope of an afterlife, I do hope that this concept of grace will save me in a more practical way by allowing me to see the good intentions of others.

Even the line, "twas Grace that taught my heart to fear," holds some truth for me in that leaving Christianity and Mormonism left me painfully aware of my shortcomings and the relative fruitlessness of my efforts. But this definition gives me hope that if I extend grace to others, I'll be the recipient of their own grace when I fall short of their expectations.

I don't really know what questions I have for this post. I'm interested in hearing your own thoughts about spirituality or the lack there of, in criticisms you might have of my definition/use or of your own thoughts on the subject. Please discuss :)


Nemesis said...

I love your writing, you know.

I like how you look at grace.

I don't have anything pithy to say right now but I'm going to think on it awhile.

angryyoungwoman said...

This is an interesting concept, Lessie. I'll think about it a little bit longer, but I'd like to present a few of my preliminary thoughts.

I remember that Mormon idea of grace "after all you could do" could get pretty exhausting. I was always afraid I wasn't doing enough, and of course I wasn't because I was continually sinning and always falling short. Plus grace (what would save you/bring you peace) fell into the hands of another individual--god. So my salvation was both in my hands and out of my hands.

Since I've found atheism, I've come to this understanding that my life is my salvation and I bring it about on my own. My grace is in my own hands. Grace lies in my ability to forgive and understand my fellow humans and my life situation.

Eve said...

Great post!

I take real issue with the wording of 2 Ne. 25:23 ("For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.").

I think Mormon Sunday School teachers take this wording literally in a linear timeline sense and perpetuate a guilt complex of one's inadequacy until one has worn oneself out in the pursuit of perfection in order to be worthy of said 'grace'. I know I got that growing up.

Instead, I've come to see that Grace is granted to me concurrently with my efforts to live out God's will for me in my life, my humanity being a given in that equation. I'm a big proponent of grace being given and recieved among ourselves as well. To me, a balance of grace and loving accountability is the mark of the type an enduring relationship (of any kind) that I look for.

Stella said...

I love and appreciate this post so much. I remember also feeling a twinge of "is it right for me to like this song?" when I was Mormon.

I think there is something so beautiful about Grace and my understanding of it that religion seemed to mess up for me.

Thank you for your thoughts sweet girl!