Audrey Hepburn is, to me, the very definition of grace. Her presence both on the screen and off exude beauty and poise, and the friendly, mischievous glint of pure joy in her eyes that is captured in even the some of most elegant of portraits makes me think that she was the type of person I would like to know – to be best friends with.
Perhaps the thing that makes her so appealing and memorable isn’t the grace she showed with her physical presence, but the grace she showed with her heart. Her tireless mission for UNICEF was a clear expression of her dedication to caring for others before herself. In so doing, Ms. Hepburn offered grace to each and every person with whom she came into contact not just on her trips for UNICEF but throughout her life in general.
Grace is a difficult concept for many people – particularly Americans – to understand. I think overall, we are able to acknowledge grace when we see it on a ballroom dance floor or in the movement of a model or dance as the move down a street, but to understand what grace is and how we are called to not only accept it but provide it to one another is a much more cumbersome venture. But interestingly, I think that concept of grace that can be seen on the dance floor is exactly the same grace we can provide to one another. It is a fluidity – a continual motion that acknowledges the unevenness of the surface and accommodates it not with brute force, but with gentle shifts of the body and spirit.
While the most significant reflection of grace is the death of Jesus on the cross, God has provided many examples of grace to His people throughout the time. He has shown us physical reflections of grace in the gentle bending of tree branches, the gentle lapping of the ocean, and even on those innumerable YouTube videos we all watch that show cats caring for birds, bears rescuing drowning birds, or a dog caring for a bunch of chicks.
How are these reflections of grace, you ask?
Well, the way I have come to understand grace, grace rectifies our wrongs without making us endure the consequences of our actions. For example, the bird who was caught in the water pool should have drown but the bear, seeing its plight, used a leaf to bring it to the surface thus saving the bird from the consequences of its own actions.
In the Christian faith there is nothing believers have done or could to that would ever save them from the consequences of earthly actions but God chose to forgive anyway. This is grace.
In a post entitled “Buddhism and God’s Grace” by Christy Tennant, a slightly different perspective of grace is offered. The woman being interviewed for the piece indicated that she is Buddhist and that her faith allows her to acknowledge that every individual has their own path in this world. While not a reflection of “grace” as the Christian would understand it, it is grace nonetheless because with this perspective, this particular woman – and I’m sure others like her – are able to forgive feelings of wrong doings simply because they understand that the person beside them or acting out in front of them person must walk their own path and to interfere would keep them from obtaining the goal they were to achieve.
Now it could be argued that grace and forgiveness, which I wrote about yesterday, are the same, but they are actually quite different – at least from the Christian perspective.
Forgiveness assumes I acknowledge the wrong doing of the person and then put I consciously put that wrong doing aside. But the wrong doesn’t actually go away. For example, I could forgive someone who murdered another but my forgiveness does not remove any consequences that individual may have to face here or after death. My forgiveness, as I stated yesterday, is for me, not the other person.
Grace is actually a big-picture concept.It is for the other person, not me.
As a Christian, my faith tells me that I have been forgiven of my sins here in this earthly realm, but that grace has been extended to me in the eternal realm so I may live with God rather than apart from him. In other words, here on this planet, I certainly suffer consequences for my stupid decisions but these decisions will not be held against me in the end. That debt has already been paid.
Similarly, the acts of compassion and love that were offered by Audrey Hepburn were acts of grace. Certainly there was no wrong doing that was done by the children needing to be helped. Their greatest sin was being born into a life of poverty. Ms.Hepburn recognized that these children needed grace to save them – someone to come beside them and offer to lift them up from where they were at no cost to themselves.
Grace is not something you can fake. It is there or it isn’t. This is true on the dance floor and it is true in the way we treat one another.I fear for many of us in this country, it does not exist. People like Audrey Hepburn remind us that grace is why we are here, what it is that we are to be striving for, and also to look for and provide grace to others in whatever package may be acceptable for the moment.One such package of grace can seen in the words of philosopher Epitectus who once quoted, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak”. To offer grace to another, listen. Don’t sit there and think of all of the things you have to say that you feel are either more important or will “fix” the problem the other person has before you fully understand the problem (which you can’t because it isn’t your problem). Listen with your ears and heart. This is grace.
Another package for grace is looking beyond the external circumstances of a given individual and look to the condition of the heart. Victor Hugo presented one such picture of grace in the book and musical Les Miserables. The lead character Jean Valjean steals silver from a priest who offered him food and a bed when neither could be found elsewhere. When caught and returned to the priest, the priest saw the heart of Jean Valjean and understood that his actions were based out of fear and need, not because he was in his heart and soul a bad person. He told the policeman that the silver was a gift and gave him even more so that it could be sold and provide a life that Jean Valjean would otherwise not be able to obtain. This is grace.
Now I’m not suggesting if you are robbed that you find the robber and give him everything else of value he left behind because he couldn’t carry it. What I am suggesting is that the next time you are in line at the grocery store and some person barges rudely in front of you and begins checking out without regard to the proper protocol, perhaps the best response isn’t to ream that person out but to offer to help them because they are clearly having a challenging day.
Grace acknowledges that we all fail – that is the human condition, after all – but that we re worth being reclaimed, reconciled, and reborn. This doesn’t happen by accident.
It happens by grace.