What is Grace? Theology vs. Modernity

“Grace and Peace.”  I stared at those two words on my closing of a letter I had written and thought to myself how much those words really mean to me.  Grace. Peace. Love.  Yet, when I sign a letter “grace and peace” it’s often seen as a religious epitaph, even though I don’t intend it that way.

I’d gotten a short eletter from my dear Spark, a friend of THM who walked with me awhile through her time of sorrow and life change.  As I smiled over her simple message of hope, I realized that Spark has it – grace.  The ability to act like a gentleman or lady in the worst of pressure, when you have been down on the skids.

How did I know this?

She said “I sent your article to a dear friend who needs it.” When we’ve passed through a tough time in life and live on to help others in our newly found wholeness – that is grace. That is grace, the root of agape type of love.

Simply put, grace is the ability to receive a divine peace in the midst of any circumstance and still be okay within yourself.  Better than okay, really – actually happy, no matter the emotional, financial or physiological weather of life.

As I searched the web for concepts of grace, of breaking what the centuries old mystics call “soul ties” I found that many of them were, disappointingly, coming from the standpoint of religion.


Yes, I am a follower of the way ~ but not a fan of religion.

Many of the offerings were the opinion of  zealous, perhaps well-meaning while misdirected religious persons that are interpreting the bible to suit their cause. Maybe it’s intentional – probably not.  Stupidity is not intentionality. Passion does not replace knowledge, folks.  Talking from a pulpit doesn’t make you a prophet.  It just makes you loud.

Again, ugh.

Here is the controversial part of this journal entry: I don’t believe that faith is the property of the church. I don’t believe that grace is the product of Christianity.  I think that both belong to a much bigger Divine presence than the world will ever know. So, lets get the whole “it’s in the bible” idea separated from what grace looks like in life, extract what is real in our context (and in the context of the first hearer of the word) and see where we stand.  First, a person that is telling you how wrong you are isn’t convicting you with grace. They’re projecting what they want from you as your “divine mission.” That is not grace or love.  It’s control. Controlling another human being to meet your own ends is very unhealthy.  Faith doesn’t control – it leads.   Grace doesn’t condemn or shout about evil and hell – it builds.  Are grace and faith interlinked by universe or by ancient writings?

What is grace? According to the widely popular, collective cool of web historians at Wikipedia.com:

Within Christianity, there are differing conceptions of grace. In particular, Catholics and Protestants use the word in substantially different ways. It has been described as “the watershed that divides Catholicism from Protestantism, Calvinism from Arminianism, modern liberalism from conservatism”. Catholic doctrine teaches that God uses the sacraments to facilitate the reception of His grace. Protestants generally do not hold that view. In other words, even without the sacraments, divine grace has been imparted by God to humanity.  Do you have to take the blood and body (bread and wine) to receive grace? Is grace salvation?

The Christian teaching is that grace is unmerited mercy that God gave to us by sending his son to die on a cross to give us eternal salvation.

In the New Testament, the word translated as grace is the Greek word charis (Greek χάρις), pronounced khar’-ece, for which Strong’s Concordance gives this definition; “Grace, the state of kindness and favor towards someone, often with a focus on a benefit given to the object.” A Greek word that is related to charis is charisma (gracious gift). Both these words originated from another Greek word chairo (to rejoice, be glad, delighted). In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term used is chen  (חֵן), which is defined in Strong’s as “favor, grace or charm; grace is the moral quality of kindness, displaying a favorable disposition”.  In the King James translation, Chen is translated as “grace” 38 times, “favour” 26 times, twice as “gracious”, once as “pleasant”, and once as “precious”.

Christianity and it’s many “denominations” doesn’t agree on the properties of grace.  Each has been defined by a “church father” that some choose to follow.  The very definition of “church father” makes the instution borne of flesh and blood – not a divine presence.  What does that tell us? How can grace come from an institution that is filled with people who are largely unforgiving and self loathing?  How do we infer grace from an organization that is led, predominately by men, who are hypocritically as failed as we are?  In my experience, the western church is a dangerous ground for things like truth and grace to tread in.  That isn’t meant as a bashing of the modern church – it’s just reality as I know it.  If your super happy in your faith, my advice is to be happy and don’t look to close.  You might be surprised what you find when the lights turn fully on behind the scenes.  There are really great churches, and really not great ones.

So I know now that grace is individual, not institutional. There is a really worthwhile quote in the above. Personal grace is a moral quality of kindness; a good disposition.  I like that idea, but it doesn’t go deeply enough.  Should there have been a consistent use for “Chen?”  We know that King James was bad to redirect words from the Greek translators to accommodate both moral expectations and what was “right and proper.”  In some cases, consistent isn’t possible to keep meaning intact.  Honestly, there are word ideas in Hebrew that don’t have Greek equivalents, and Greek words that don’t have English equivalents. Didn’t know that?

To oversimplify the problem of defining grace as  a religious concept, try to think of the written bible as a children’s game of “telephone” in a way – it’s first oral traditions written down. Those writings were scattered, rewritten, changed, rewritten again, collected, and rewritten. It’s been through Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English – and through the transition of culture from communal to individual.

We live in a totally alien world to the people of 2,000 years ago.



Is it a modern term for “lucky, fortunate, mentally healthy?”  Is it a faith based term for “has divine intervention?”  If so, why is it so hard to attain?

Maybe my inability to see grace comes from the fact that I think as an “I” – they thought as a community.  However, when I act in a way that the community I exist in – the micro-system of family, the meso-systems of my life;  I am afforded the opportunity to operate in grace. Does grace exist when we consider just and individual outside of their family systems?

Maybe my inability to define the origin of grace comes from not understanding that grace to them – the real people who lived the stories of the final years of the first Israel, and the years of the lives of the Christ, the Apostles, the martyrs –  came in really common ideas like the Lord’s Prayer.  “Give us this day our daily bread” might sound like a blessing of an expected meal today, but for the 95% of society that did not have the assurance of a meal each day, it was a plea for the grace of life’s most basic needs – food, shelter, clothing.  Maybe this is where we find grace, in knowing that we’re being taken care of, and not alone.

I’m sure I will get letters from the dedicated Christian’s in our reader group that are unhappy with my take on the physical translation of the Bible, even if this entire article is looking for a long term, applicable and real definition of the word “grace” and it’s place in our life.  Letter writers, forgive me – after two years of Greek working on translation issues, history and thinking about it long and hard, there are honest questions that I believe honor faith, not challenge the reality of it.

So back to the question…what is grace? Was there grace before Christ? Is grace elementally part of the Christian faith? No, I find grace in other world religions, in the prayers of the Buddhist, in the meditation of the Hindu – so I can’t rightfully limit what is also part of a universal truth.  It’s complicated that our understanding of grace comes from the bible.  I brought up the telephone issue ~ translations of translations.

How can you judge how accurate it is?

Well, you can set a precedent for what is measurable. We know that the current translation of the Old Testament (including the sections that we share with the Muslims, up until that whole Issac/Ishmael issue) are mostly intact – the scrolls of Kumran date back to when Jesus was walking the earth.  Those scrolls include all the books of the OT except Esther, which most scholars believe to be a parable-type story included at a later date.  Problem for us today – there is not really any strong indicator for “grace” in the OT.  Some, but not as a prevalent course of human life.

I considered this all as I thought of grace and peace, sealed my letter and placed it into the mail box on the front of my home.  Standing in the doorway, I paused to look at the life that spread out before me.

On the sidewalk are the remnants of my daughter’s hopscotch game, the one that I taught her to draw and play with her often.  I thought of the laughter and the smiles, and of how I once was so desperate for her heart to heal and for her to live. For all those moments in intensive care with my daughter, there are hours of grace filled love, hugs, cuddles and more.

Our front yard is slightly overgrown from a few showers this past week, and almost emerald green with new life.  I thought of the past 170 years that this house has stood here, of the stories that it could tell. It’s full of grace, this house.  It’s quiet and contemplative of the storms that roll by; it’s consistent and patient as I paint it, fuss over it, clean it.  It protects and comforts.  It has a character that many “busy” people would miss, borne of years of life.

I watched the trees in the gentle breeze, those that are three stories plus high, those that are more than a hundred years, those that are “newborns.” The hedge of trees that Brian, Mom and I planted a few years ago are filling out, framing the sidewalk with their unique charm.  Each of them has a special and unique space, a different thing to offer – just like us.

I sat on the wrought iron patio furniture that is on our beautiful, full front porch and settled into it’s comfy cushions.  Neighbors went by, the mail man came and the sun shone in.  I thought of the laughter and tears of the past 36 months, the opportunity to honestly fall in love with my husband again, the “second chance” of not only learning to let go, but to redeem the time by helping others through difficult times – and the theological understandings of grace just slipped away.

I did find a correlate of this idea in the bible.  Paul said “in want or in plenty, I have found the secret of being content.”  I used to think that this only meant his relationship with Christ, but that doesn’t fit in an community culture.  I understand now that this man who was subjected to a super harsh life was doing what he really believed in.  Some characteristics of people who live in grace?

  • They’re committed fully to life ~ they in some way serve others.
  • They refuse to be yanked around by emotions.  That doesn’t mean they live in a “glory cloud” of happiness.  They have emotions, and still live with them – but they don’t get to make the decisions.
  • They live in the day.  They don’t focus on the past, but on the vibrancy of being alive.
  • Grace is a state of being – not a happy disposition, but a state of being wholly awake in your life, and okay with who you are.
  • People filled with grace are able to honestly “live” life. We don’t look back, we’re not longing for what once was. There is no desire to find that lost love or that misplaced treasure.  We’re good with the universe and our ever developing role in it.  We don’t get really freaked out over “shoulds” and old rules.
  • Peace and grace allow you to sense the flow of the universe within and around you.
  • Grace and peace come when you can see that special place that you fit in the whole of your culture, your own place in the fabric of space and time.
  • People of grace can reject what they’ve experienced that is in the end, not good for them.  As Spark knows, I did once love a person that led me to write “How Do I Let Him Go.”  I wrote my articles for “Letting Go” in grace and healing. It’s a quest for understanding and for peace. I had to abandon my ideas of that person and the potential in order to fully embrace my life now.  Hindsight, the best decision I could have ever made.  At the time? Ugh, pain-filled tough stuff. Now? I am honestly over it. A great redemption of those pains comes in helping other people – and there is grace and peace in it all.
  • Grace doesn’t require outside intervention to break soul based ties.  You’re not required to make a big production, but to simply return the energy of that person still connected to you back into the earth – just imagine that you’re a tree, and your feet twine like roots into the ground. Imagine that you’re old ties are green light that rests within you, and that it wants to travel back to the core of the earth, be cleansed and returned to it’s rightful owner.  Grace lets you gently release it, and to draw your own energy back to yourself.  I know it sounds mystical, but I use this visualization each time a really negative experience comes my way.  I don’t hold other people’s negative stuff, or the memories of what “used to be.”  Connections like that don’t belong to you – let them go through peace and grace.  You’ll be happier once the “not you” stuff flows from you.
  • Grace causes hope.  It’s a root.  Grace will buoy up your dreams and give you the energy to take one more step on the road toward climbing your Everest.
  • Grace filled folks are deeply grateful to the Divine without a list of requests called “prayer.” They’re able to simply be one and accepting, to make that petition known and then have childlike faith to trust in outcomes that we don’t always expect or understand.  This one can be a struggle when you’re losing a person that you love to something like cancer.
  • Grace is that “special ingredient” that enables us to be healthy, adaptable people.  It’s the ability to see past your circumstances and to the silver lining that shows there are rays of sun (and hope) behind the storm clouds pouring rain on your head.  We even see the beauty of the pain.  It’s there, if you’ll recognize that it’s important to life.

I know I look happy - and I am. But this was an important, tough moment for me - one filled with grace, dignity and love.

In the contemplation of grace as a modern or faith based concept, I have to say “both.”  Because I am a person of prayer and faith – although not in the traditional Christian sense – I readily and happily admit that faith breeds grace; grace breeds hope; hope breeds life ~ and life breathes into us.  It does no good to “be religious” but instead, to have a soul deep conviction in what you know is your truth – and the truth in your community.

For me, faith is a choice to serve my world, to “feed the sheep” and be honestly okay and happy with what life brings.  I have found the secret of being content, abased or abound.  It’s love. Peace. Grace. In all things.  Why?

No matter what happens in life, I am me.

You are you.

You have that divine grace to be.

A unique creation, a designers original.

Grace and Peace to you….in the fullest sense of the words, really.

May your life be filled with things that you learn from, moments of laughter and years of good health. May you have the opportunity to make someone else’s life better, every day.  May you have the chance to smile instead of frown – and take it.  May you see the blessings of this incredible journey of life, and relish in all of the moments of it.  And when it’s time that the rain clouds come, may you walk through as the light dims, as the water pours, and remember who you are.  Remember that you’re going to emerge clean from the trial – if you choose to.

Don’t be afraid to live, to laugh and to love.

Peace and grace.  Yes, that is it.

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