June 20-24 , 2023

What is Grace and why would we need it? Here’s the what, see below for the why. My Webster’s New World College Dictionary has a very long entry on grace. It includes—most importantly for us as spiritual practitioners—these theological definitions:

a) the unmerited love and favor of God toward humankind,
b) divine influence acting in a person to make the person pure, morally strong, etc. [and…]
d) a special virtue, gift or help given to a person by God.
It also interestingly includes:
a period of time granted beyond the date set for the performance of an act or the payment of an obligation; a temporary exemption; a favor shown by granting such a delay.

Please note: If the term God doesn’t resonate with you, please substitute your preferred term. Possible substitutes are: Consciousness, Energy, Love, True Self, Spirit, Mother Nature, the Mystery, the Light, the Force, etc. I no longer have issues with the term God so use it a good bit in what follows. Consider yourself warned.

Now some “unpacking” and reflection. a) “The unmerited love and favor of the Divine toward [us].” It’s been said that God’s Grace gives more than we deserve. This corresponds quite strongly with my personal feeling and experience. I wonder, does anyone besides the pathologically narcissistic really feel that they were and are completely meritorious of all the good “stuff” that they have ever received? We think of material things but should also consider the amazing people we know, the fantastic experiences we have had, as well as being saved from terrible things that easily could have happened, etc. A person might feel totally worthy of all the Good, but I imagine that most of us feel that we have received far more than we have “deserved.” We know ourselves at least that well. This definition speaks to that common human experience.

Conversely though, we will never “merit” “unmerited” love and favor if we just sit on our asses and expect the Divine to fulfill our every whim! It won’t happen. As Jesus said, God takes care of the birds of the field; so for us, too. The birds in the field are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Are we? As another cliché goes, “God helps those who help themselves.” Or as my son’s Taekwondo Master, Master Partridge, said on many occasions, “You make your own luck,” (by all of your training and practice; luck meaning, in this case, something going in your favor somewhat unexpectedly or seemingly beyond your control).

So paradoxically, though we perhaps don’t merit the quantity and quality of the good stuff that may come to us, our actions beforehand can be seen as preparations for it being given and for us to be able to receive it. Though Grace (or call it luck if you want) is, again, truly unmerited, while on the spiritual path we open ourselves to it by our faith, selfless service and dedication to practicing and living the teachings in life, on the mat and on the meditation cushion.

The next definition, “b) divine influence acting in a person to make the person pure, morally strong, etc.” describes what happens when we have availed ourselves of “external” Grace. It effects a very real, meaningful and important change in us, the recipients of it. We’ll feel it, which is how we gain faith in it. Belief is too shallow to effectively change a person; we have to feel it. The deeper we feel it, the better, so that doubt will no longer be able to sway the fickle mind.

Then, “d) a special virtue, gift or help given to a person by God.” This definition is really the most important one for us devotees and Yoga practitioners. If we feel that we can “do this thing” alone—if we think that we can travel the spiritual Path all by ourself without any help from the outside—more power to us. And the Universe/the Divine/the Force will take care to correct that incorrect and egoic self-assessment in due time!

However, as per the non-theological definitions, the Divine might just give Grace as “a period of time granted beyond the date set for the performance of an act or the payment of an obligation,” meaning, we might get a little “extra time” to come around and realize the Truth and the Love and come to some humility. The Divine might give us “a temporary exemption” of sorts, emphasis on temporary.

I have spent too much time observing my own mind to fantasize that there is any way that I could follow this process on “my own!” I haven’t done it so far, and I don’t expect to in the future. The mind—specifically, the force of habits and attachments—resists any positive change and movement toward any kind of Deeper Truth. Did you notice? Did you ever feel you had some insight or got some degree of clarity and peace, only to find it completely gone in too short a time and yourself back in a seemingly deeper “hole?” In the inner world, it often feels like two steps forward, five steps back. Any actual “forward progress” on the Path I consider to be completely the effects of Grace. Personally, I am very clear on the need for Grace coming from “outside”—at least coming from something bigger than the cramped, anxious, little mind, with which we are all familiar.

If we have a devotional perspective on life and have a personal feel for something greater than our little self—again, call it what you will—then it is completely natural and right that we would expect that that Bigger (Loving) Thing would be giving us some kind of aid in our process of unfoldment and awakening. That’s what devotees around the world and from different religions have experienced and teach. That feeling and expectation is not actually difficult for a person on a devotional Path to experience. It also can be purposely cultivated and strengthened.

It’s important to remember that the Saints and Masters around the world say (from their personal experience) that divine Grace is always flowing; we just need to “put up our sails” to catch it. The flow of Grace is simply built into the fabric of creation. Call it “free energy” or some helpful force that we need only to avail ourself of, rather than trying to figure it out or control it in any way. If you don’t believe it yet—if you haven’t felt it yet, even momentarily—try simply being open to the possibility of receiving Grace. Don’t try to open fully to Grace at first but simply to the possibility of receiving it. And then see what happens. No expectations one way or another.

Also remember that to be open to receive it, it helps to act in the best possible ways. Peace Pilgrim encouraged, “Every good thing you think to do, do it.” To be open to receiving Grace, we must give selflessly of ourselves, do whatever daily practices in which we have interest and to which we are willing to commit ourselves, think positive thoughts, be grateful, help others. And repeatedly open ourselves to the Grace, with emphasis on repeatedly.

In conclusion, Amma, my Wisdom teacher said in her retreat in 2003: “We feel that God is not giving Grace to everyone equally. It’s not true. If the bowl of our Heart is upside down, the Grace will not be able to be received.” Let’s keep this question in mind: Which was is the bowl of our Heart facing?