There’s A Word For The Thing We Need Most Right Now: Grace

Elizabeth Wellington The Philadelphia Inquirer

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Elizabeth Wellington writes, "These days — both the devout and the secular — are defining grace as permission to treat ourselves and one another with mercy as we work our way through the drama of what has become our daily reality."

Philadelphia

There was a time when I ran three to five miles before work and trained for half marathons. Three years ago, however, I tore a muscle in my right hip flexor. I limped for months. I could barely walk, let alone run.

It took 18 months for my leg to heal. And when I finally tried running again, I sucked. My pace was slow. My knees buckled. My whole body hurt. I quit. But now with spring in full bloom, I have the will to get back on the trail, but I'm not sure I have the stamina. I found myself recently whining to my friend, Heather, a fellow runner, on FaceTime. "E-beth," she said, "You've been through a lot. Have some grace with yourself."

Grace. There was that beautiful word again.

In a year when falling down and getting up has been a running theme in our lives, grace is infusing the zeitgeist with tenderness and strength. It crosses all the lines of the traumas that envelop us: the pandemic, social injustice, our divided politics. These days — both the devout and the secular — are defining grace as permission to treat ourselves and one another with mercy as we work our way through the drama of what has become our daily reality.

"Grace goes beyond self-care and treating yourself," said the Rev. Charles Howard, the University of Pennsylvania chaplain. "It's extending kindness to others and yourself even when it's not deserving." Grace is offering a soft place to land. "It gives us permission to just be," Howard said.

What is grace? Grace's roots are deeply religious. Jewish people say grace after meals in the recitation of Birkat Hamazon. Muslims pray the Fatiha at least five times a day. Its opening words: In the name of Allah, Most gracious, most merciful. Christians see grace as a gift from God that is bestowed on us even when we are undeserving. This gift gives us the strength to avoid sin and do good deeds. There is however, one nonnegotiable prerequisite: the unassailable belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Growing up Catholic, I was taught that I received grace through the seven sacraments and that the Virgin Mary is full of grace. Grace was like magic pixie dust: something I wanted, even needed, but wasn't sure why.

The unattainable nature of grace was reinforced even further in its secular uses. Grace is the Latin word for “pleasing.” Dancers are graceful. Models walk the runway with grace. We give grace periods for late bills. My elders insisted that to be gracious is to smile through situations that were more deserving of a cuss out than a curtsy. Grace was tenuous. Grace was finite.

And most importantly, grace was something to be earned.

As the wellness and self-care movements have stepped up to answer life’s uncertain questions in a not-so-black-and-white way, the concept of grace has become more equitable. Self-help gurus — from Deepak Chopra to Oprah, Brenè Brown to Me Too movement founder Tarana Burke — often talk about how our collective ability to tap into grace, despite whatever form we believe the Higher Power takes, helps us endure struggle.

And in this moment of great struggle, that’s never been more necessary. As we try to live through a global pandemic, we’ve turned to grace to help us through the arduous tasks of home schooling, the search for the COVID-19 vaccine, and the seemingly endless workday.

Grace and social justice During President Joe Biden’s speech marking his first 100 days in office, he encouraged Americans to keep the faith. “America is rising new,” Biden said. “Choosing hope over fear. Truth over lies. Light over darkness.” And what was powering this message? Grace, said Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and author of Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States.

“In Joe Biden’s Catholicism, grace is at work in so many places that we don’t see and in places we may never think to look,” Faggioli said. “Grace is all around us.”

Having grace is the foundation for treating people with humanity, Howard said. So when we irk each other by showing up to dinner late, forgetting birthdays or — gasp — forgetting our masks, we don’t hold it against them.

“Grace opens the doors to forgiveness, moving forward and being kind to yourself in the process,” said Anne Ledyard, co-founder of OMM Yoga Studio. On most days, Ledyard asks her students to hold poses with grace.

“Grace also holds you accountable,” Ledyard said. “That’s the hard part. We think grace is easy. But it’s not. Through grace we see ourselves for who we are. Grace requires that we work through the shame. Without it, we wouldn’t keep going.”

Social justice issues like Black Lives Matter, The Me Too Movement and yes, trying to secure equal pay for women, are a cry from marginalized communities to please treat us with grace. We are asking that people in power offer us the same kindness they don’t think twice about extending to themselves, their children and their best friends. “There are so many people the world just hasn’t shown grace to because they didn’t have to,” Howard said.

But having grace doesn’t mean that you are colorblind. On the contrary: It means letting people flourish and choose their own path to happiness even if it’s different from your own. “Grace is transformational,” Faggioli said. “It is the light. It is the goodness.”

How to show yourself grace Mount Airy-based Cicelee Chapelle, co-founder of Mandala Yoga Collective, recently taught a class that focused on creating the space for grace.

Chappelle felt overwhelmed as she tried to launch her business, a major sign, she says, that she’s in need of grace. “I needed to open up more to life. Think a little less, do a little less and stop struggling against the flow.” As for me, I decided to run two miles twice a week. Keeping it slow and steady.

How do you know when you need grace? We talked to some experts to help you identify when you are in need of grace and how to invite it into your life.

The feeling: inadequacy The graceful solution: Start a gratitude practice, said Rabbi Mendy Cohen, co-director of Chabad of the Main Line’s family community. When we start off the day grateful that you can walk, exercise and even breathe, you feel empowered to continue on.

The feeling: judgmental The graceful solution: Make the space and time to learn, Ledyard said. “I’m finding that there are things I just have a low tolerance for,” Ledyard said. “But when I want to go off, grace tells me there is something for me to learn. When I feel myself falling out of grace, I try to educate myself so I can get back in.”

The feeling: unappreciated The graceful solution: Get outside, Howard said. Seeing the beauty in nature reminds us that grace is all around us. “We didn’t do anything to deserve the gift of a breeze, but we are still receiving that beautiful gift.”

Expert sources Cicelee Chapelle, co-founder of Mandala Yoga Collective The Rev. Charles Howard, PhD, chaplain University of Pennsylvania Rabbi Mendy Cohen, co-director of Chabad of the Main Line’s family community Massimo Faggioli, PhD, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and author of “Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States” Anne Ledyard, co-founder of OMM Yoga Studio ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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