An Atheist’s conception of “Grace”
One Universalist Unitarian description of Grace as found in Soul Matters Material is
“Despite all its theological baggage, at its core the idea of grace simply celebrates a gift. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, it celebrates the giftedness of life. The deepest and most sacred experience of joy comes from encountering a gift you didn’t expect, earn, create or even deserve.”
But a gift from whom, or from where? This is the struggle.
I recently won a sponsorship to run a footrace that costs a substantial amount of money. My wife asked me if this wasn’t an expression of “grace” or being “blessed” (I will save the blessed debate for another time). As I didn’t necessarily expect to win this sponsorship or create it I was meeting at least one if not two of the criteria of the definition above. That said, I noticed that there was an application process, and that I could absolutely not expect to win if I didn’t enter. I ran many races and worked for the sponsorship organizer’s events and I filled out the application which is to say I did what was necessary to earn it and also to create the environment in which it was possible to win, and in hindsight I believe I do deserve it. That it happened at a time that finances are tight could be merely a coincidence or just the fact that finances are always tight in my life.
As I think about all of the instances that I might even consider using the word grace with this definition, upon further examination I find that what really happens is that opportunities emerge from circumstances created within myself as well as outside myself whether it is jobs, gigs, marriages, etc. The sponsorship was created by an entity that was not me, but the taking advantage and doing what was necessary was created by me. I believe that these opportunities are always present. The idea of Grace to me then becomes an exercise of recognizing the multitude of opportunities that surround us and doing what is necessary to take advantage of them. These opportunities of course change through time as we gain more knowledge and skills in life and not everyone is afforded the same opportunities depending on their circumstances.
I also believe that I can be on both sides of this equation. The organization of the sponsorship was the outside catalyst creating the opportunity for me to capitalize on it. I can be that outside catalyst by extending myself to others, by creating opportunities for them. And those opportunities don’t have to be the big ones like creating jobs, sponsorships, or gigs, they can be opportunities to teach skills, or bolster confidence in someone else so they can capitalize on the greater opportunities.
“But what about the times that something just falls I your lap?” You may ask. They say even a broken clock is right twice a day. Can this not be chalked up to coincidence? Also, those things that “fall into our laps” can only be received if we are prepared for them, like a job… if we didn’t have the skills a job falling into our lap wouldn’t mean very much because we couldn’t perform the requisite skills. A loved one who falls into our life can’t be accepted unless we are ready to accept other people in our lives. (ad I not had the experiences of a former marriage, divorce, and opening back up to the world, Amy’s and my relationship would not be what it is today.
Now, none of this is arguing that one should not be grateful (as both the words grace and gratitude have the same etymology gratia). In using another definition of grace, a sense of gratitude allows us to be graceful and thankful when recognizing and taking advantage of the myriad opportunities that constantly surround us. It is this grace that is the impetus for us to extend grace/opportunities to others.
So where does it come from? It comes from us, from our personal evolution of skills, interactions, and knowledge, from our environment and from the circumstances that are presented to us because of the evolving skills, interactions, knowledge that others and the world are constantly going through. So in a sense it is larger than us, but that does not mean it is a god giving it to us, it’s us giving it to us. The key is recognizing it, and knowing it’s here, right now and all of the time… even when it changes.