One of the gifts of my early religious upbringing is the teaching of grace. Though I have left that religion, this teaching continues to be central in my life and teaching. I still often sing the classic Christian hymn, sung in the Baptist church of my childhood and youth, "Amazing Grace." An Anglican clergyperson and poet, John Newton, penned the words in 1772. He had been a slave trader before becoming a Christian. And having explored many religions over the last 30 years, I see the teaching of grace in them all. I was surprised to find the song "Amazing Grace" has been well-liked among many Buddhists, a non-theistic path. The words may be different, but the teaching of trust in grace is present East and West.
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A man appeared at the gates of Paradise. Christ met him. "Christ," said the man, "I'm so happy to get here to enjoy heaven!" Christ said, "Sir, you're not ready for heaven." Bewildered, the man spoke, "Certainly, I am! I've worked hard to make sure I get to heaven!" "That's why you're not ready to enjoy heaven," said Christ.
Another man arrived at the gates of Paradise. Christ met him. "Christ," said the man, "I'm so enthused to get to heaven! I worked hard to make sure I wouldn't get sent to hell." Christ said, "Sir, you're not ready for heaven." Confused, the man replied, "You must be wrong! Didn't I do many good things to make sure I wouldn't go to hell?" Christ replied, "Yes, you did many good things to make sure you wouldn't go to hell, and that's why you're not ready for heaven."
A third man stood before the gates of Paradise. Christ met him. "Christ," said the man, "I don't know if I'm ready for heaven or not. I don't think I could ever get ready." Christ said, "That's why you're ready. Welcome!"
1) The first way is of the man who acts out of the fear of not getting what one wants.
2) The second way is the man who acts from the fear of getting what one does not wish to.
3) The third way is the way of grace. One recognizes the self cannot in itself meet some external standard of acceptance or non-acceptance. In grace - an internal, intangible gift -, one is always and already accepted. By the same grace, one can relax self-effort and accept the acceptance.
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Grace is integral to the life of any spiritual practitioner, of a religion or not. Grace is neither religious nor non-religious. It enables and inspires. It accompanies us along the Way. Yet, we cannot name it. No one can say what grace is. We can, nevertheless, know it, as we know any truth by experiencing it. If one finds grace, this is for grace has already found her - to know grace is one act with grace knowing you. Where does grace begin for you? Before you ask for it; it is the source of your asking.
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*© Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book consists of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.