On Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Grace
On the ward round with my students at the hospital this morning, I saw a female patient with newly diagnosed diabetes. I explained to her and the students, that if her diabetes was not properly controlled, she may develop the complications of blindness, stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and gangrene. During our discussions, she mentioned that with God’s Grace, she is going to get her diabetes under control to avoid these complications. If this was an average day, I would have been dismissive of her comment, and would have continued to educate her that she would have to eat more healthily, exercise, take her medications and follow up with her doctor after being discharged from hospital. But this was no average day. Several recent events were weighing heavily on my mind, including the tragic shootings in Charleston, climate change, and the Greek sovereign debt crisis.
Although the shootings were very troubling to begin with, it was the theme of President Obama’s eulogy that preoccupied my mind the most. He said:
“This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God — as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.”
What made today so special was that I felt something stirring within this morning, which made me take a closer look at this concept of Grace at breakfast. Although I thought I had a good idea of what it meant, I felt that there was a lesson to be learnt in my search for a deeper and better understanding of the workings of this world.
And as per usual, I turned to Wikipedia for guidance and this is what I found:
“In Western Christian theology, grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it”, “the condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race”. It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man — “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved” — that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.
It is an attribute of God that is most manifest in the salvation of sinners. Christian orthodoxy holds that the initiative in the relationship of grace between God and an individual is always on the side of God.
In Eastern Christianity too, grace is the working of God himself, not a created substance of any kind that can be treated like a commodity.
The question of the means of grace has been called “the watershed that divides Catholicism from Protestantism, Calvinism from Arminianism, modern [theological] liberalism from [theological] conservatism.”
What struck me at the moment when I was at the bedside of the patient was a discovery of another “means of grace,” which instead of being a watershed of further division in our traditions, had the potential to unify the physical and spiritual aspects of healing. Although I did not know it before, I now realise that what I described in my lecture, The Secret to Healthy Ageing last year, was actually God’s Grace disguised as God’s love for us all. So when my patient claimed that her healing will come with God’s Grace, it all made sense to me then and there. Let me explain.
In that lecture, I asked myself several leading questions:
1) Is the secret to health ageing responsible stewardship?
2) Does it involve me tending the garden of my physical, mental and social self?
3) What do you call that experience of connection with the cells, tissues and organs of your body so that you can keep your physiological reserves in the best shape possible? Is that your physical capital?
4) What do you call that experience of connection with your family, friends, school-mates, co-workers and neighbours in your community, that allows you to invest in them and they in you, as you actualise their potential, and they yours? Is that your social capital?
5) What do you call that experience of connection with your thoughts and emotions and your worldview that allows you to cope with difficult situations when they arise without getting anxious, depressed, angry or frustrated, and be at peace with yourself, others and the world? Is that your mental capital?
6) What did William Blake mean in his poem,
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
7) Could it be that when Jesus was talking about inheriting an eternal life, he was in fact talking about healthy ageing?
Luke 10:25-28 King James Version (KJV)
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
8) Is love of God referring to stewardship of all creatures and all of creation inclusive of the life supporting systems of the planet, be they the air, water, and soil of our planet – in other words, our environment? So if we take care of our life supporting systems, will they in turn take care of us? Do we already live in abundance and don’t even know it?
9) Is love of neighbour referring to stewardship of the relationships with our family and community, and that if we take care of our families and communities, our families and communities will take care of us?
10) And finally, is love of (your)self referring to stewardship of your body, and that by taking care of your organs and body, your body and organs would take care of you?
11) For me at least, to love GOD, and to love your neighbour as you love yourself, with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, is the secret to healthy ageing!!!
It was this morning, that I realised that it is the personal relationships with our life-supporting-networks, within, around and without that IS God’s Grace. These diverse and interconnected networks that work efficiently and with great resilience are not earned, and are not gained on merit, but are given to us unconditionally by our Creator. How many times have we turned away from God’s grace and “sinned” when we have polluted our bodies with toxic and less nutritious substances, and caused injury to our internal cells and organs? How many times have our internal organs forgiven us? Seventy-times-seven?
How many times have we impoverished our soils, deforested our lands, polluted the air and oceans and lands, along with our food supply? Have we passed the grace period, seventy-times-seven, that Earth has given us before she cannot forgive us anymore?
And finally, how many times have we spewed toxic and less than wholesome thoughts, words and deeds that have affected our family members and members of our local community and those in the wider world? If our bodies have been very forgiving of us and our planet and its life-supporting systems have endured so much, why can’t we find it within ourselves to forgive the perpetrators of misdeeds among us, just like the victims’ families of Charleston on that fateful day had found it in their hearts to do so?
A more pertinent question in our globalised and financial age that must be asked with much urgency is this: Why can’t the high priests in the temple of finance find it in their hearts to forgive nations of their debts when they err, so as not not bring untold hardships on the people for generations to come?
What I have come to learn as of late, is that the artificial intelligence of our financial system is at the core of all our divisive ways, be it with respect to the desecration of the temples of our bodies, our communities and our ecosystems. It is the “proverbial” tail that is wagging the dog-eat-dog world of our daily lives. Our fear of robots and their artificial intelligence taking control and making us slaves is not one of the future, but a present and living reality in the guise of the financial system, and is a clear and present danger in our midst.
It is the natural intelligence and wisdom of Mother Earth and Nature that would be our saving Grace if we choose to accept. We have had a very long grace period in coming to terms with our original sin and thinking that we, as an arrogant species, can define in our artificial man-made laws what we know as good and evil to control and dominate ourselves, each other and the environment. What I am beginning to appreciate is that where we went wrong in our human endeavours to preserve our liberties to create healthier and wholesome lives was the blind and misguided pursuit of happiness, for its own sake. I now feel we need to declare our interdependence with each other by opening our hearts, minds, souls and spirits in pursuit of a better awareness, appreciation and understanding of God’s Grace.
What happened to me today, at the bedside of this patient, was a watershed moment in my life that has given me a better appreciation of who I am, where I am and where I need to go. It has provided a unified perspective of the physical, mental, social and spiritual realms of healing, and has given me the confidence that it is in the pursuit of Divine Grace in all of its manifestations, where untold abundance and blessings will be found.
My fervent hope and prayer is that our leaders in our society, who ever and where ever they may be, will experience the same awakening that I had today, and be guided accordingly by this Grace.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.