The Meaning of Grace

The Meaning of Grace

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of Grace. I like to capitalize the word when using it regarding an experience coming from God. It’s my way of honoring it, as recognizing it as something sacred.

The dictionary doesn’t quite do it justice – “unmerited divine assistance, a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance, mercy, pardon, privilege.”

To me, Grace is the sense of calmness or peace that comes to me during moments of crisis. Once I was on a ship, sleeping soundly in the middle of the Caribbean. In the early hours of the morning, I woke to a succession of horn blasts. Jumping out of bed in a panic, I had a vague understanding of what the sound met since three days earlier; I had been forced to participate in a lifeboat drill. At the time, it had been a frivolous rite of passage for all sea travelers best done with an umbrella drink in hand.

Now as I calculated how many blasts I had heard and what it meant, the captain’s voice calmly answered. All passengers and crew were to report to their assigned muster stations immediately. There was a significant fire burning on board, and we were to follow emergency procedures. My husband opened the veranda door and pointed to live embers like tiny fireflies, landing on our plastic patio furniture.

I thought to myself, fire at sea. Holy crap this is bad! But when I opened the hallway door and saw my three kids pop their heads out of their interior room, I felt a wave a calm settle on my shoulders. Despite the distinct smell of smoke in the air and the sounds of panicked passengers shouting for loved ones, I felt no fear. I calmly told the kids to get their life jackets. I did the same, but only after slipping some clothes on along with my contacts. If I was going in a lifeboat, I wanted to be able to see what I was doing, and I wanted to be warm. It was like moving in slow motion, I knew all would be well, and I just had to follow directions.

We ascended the stairs with hundreds of fellow travelers and found our muster station. Lifeboats were prepared to lower. Crew members ran in and out, some blackened with soot. We participated in countless roll calls and wondered about the names repeated many times over with no response. Were these people lost, or worse, injured? Were they incapable of following directions? Who knew? What I did know, was there was absolutely no reason to panic.

Eight hours later, the fire which had destroyed several floors in the center of the ship was as last contained. The coast guard escorted us to safety, and we were sent home early from our seven-day vacation. One person did lose his life, and several were injured. I tell this story, not to freak anybody out about travel at sea, but because it’s the first time I could palpably feel that sense of calm coming, not from within, but from an unseen force beyond myself.

When I recounted the story to a friend, she told me what I had experienced was Grace.

Not being particularly religious, I didn’t have a name for it, but Grace felt right.

Since then I’ve had several instances when crisis surrounds me, and something overrides my natural instinct to run screaming from my circumstances and instead fills me with strength like a steel rod in my spine. Not every time has a happy ending, but strength and peace come.

Most people can think of a time when they felt this peace, this strength, this sense of calm. The challenge is to recognize Grace when no fires are burning. Grace is available to us, not just in moments of crisis, but all of the time, provided we are not too thick-headed to recognize it.

I asked another friend about the meaning of Grace, curious to hear his Muslim perspective.

He said, “We call it peace. Peace comes after realizing there is a superior plan and everything is under control. We don’t know the plan, which can make us feel uneasy, but wisdom comes in knowing the power of God and feeling harmony in that. We are but tiny humans with no power to control the whole system. So let yourself flow with the river of life. Don’t struggle to swim in the wrong direction.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the sound of Ellen DeGeneres’s voice as Dory saying, “Just keep swimming just keep swimming.” But I understood the Grace of his words. I often struggle with feelings of uncertainty. During a crisis, there’s nothing to do but just accept what is at the time – no time to overthink. That’s when Grace is most recognizable.

But, when I relax and allow the power of the current to carry me along, trusting that there is a divine plan at work, I know that is Grace as well. I like this. I feel my muscles relax ever so slightly and I become a little less thick-headed and a little more Graceful.

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