14
Feb
15

Grace — close reading exercise begins…

Well, I have to say, I can’t wait to get into a close reading of the cathechism’s take on grace.  I’m thinking that the best way to do it, is  bit by bit as we go along.  I will be looking at this from my POV, so that Trinitarian ideas will prove problematic.  But problematic can be a springboard for thinking and discussion.  In my wrestling with the Catholic Catechism, my point is not to hold Catholic doctrine up to ridicule.  That would require two things from me that I am not ready to agree to: 1) I am an expert whose position holds equal or superior value to Catholic doctrine, or other doctrine;  2) it’s OK to ridicule the beliefs of another faith.  That said, I figure I should not be afraid to explore my own views, ideally always remaining open to others.  I am not aiming to convert others.  I am aiming at trying to see what of the Catholic view of Grace still fits, and to better get a grip on what Grace means to me.

1996: Our justification comes from the grace of God.  Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.

The number 1996 is the paragraph number or section number in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (it’s a huge work).  It is the first section dealing specifically with grace.  I’ve put it in red, in part, because I liked the “rubrics” of my old hymnal, in which the words of Jesus were in red.  It’s something of a personal fancy.

The idea that our justification comes from the grace of God will be quite alien to many Unitarians, and certainly all who are strict humanists.  It is a position I cannot fully accept myself.  I think that there is something in the idea that we cannot “justify” ourselves.  I cannot simply do what I want, and that be OK.  I have to take into consideration other people, and their needs, and wants, and desires.  If hurting others physically or emotionally is what I want to do, that desire will run counter to others’ needs, wants and desires.  And that idea runs counter to the idea that each person has inherent worth and dignity.  If I accept that as an idea, my actions and I myself have to be considered in the context of others.  That such judgment or consideration is dependent on God is also possibly troubling.

I would characterize myself now as someone who does not believe in a personal God.  That personal and interventionist God did not intervene, it seems to me, when the horrors of genocide have happened.  I cannot say there is no God with any certainty, but, as a working hypothesis, I feel more comfortable assuming that the Biblical, male God, is not a being I can accept.  I can accept, though, the idea of the “interdependent web of all existence, of which I am a part.”  This works well with the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”  It allows for a world and universe that can exist apart from some big daddy in the sky.  But it does argue that there is something beyond me (I am part of the web, but not all of it) which does affect who I am (I am a part of that greater whole).  The web idea suggests that the world acts on me, but also that I, in my actions, can affect the world.  Instead of filling me with egotistical pride — it makes me feel that 1) I have a responsibility to act (inaction is just one form of acting) and that 2) I have a responsibility to act responsibly and responsively.

If there is no God, or assuming for the sake of argument, no God, where is that Grace?  How can it be the favor of God?  And what about the undeserved quality?  Well, in her book, The Color Purple, Alice Walker has one character argue against Churches in favor of some sort of oneness with nature.  And that character says about God that God is always trying to please us with flowers and the like, and adds that “I think it pisses God off when we pass the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”  I don’t know if that’s quite what I have in mind when I think of the interdependent Web, but it’s close — it does assume a generally beneficent universe (or not a hostile or dumb universe) and one that invites us into response, into a dance.  The beauty of a field, or a stream, or of something constructed (such as a building) is not given to us because we deserve it.  That suggests a different relationship than I’m willing to accept.  If I deserve it, it’s owed to me, and that doesn’t seem right.  I see the exuberance and generosity suggested in Walker’s image as joy overrunning which is there if we can but see it.  And, in seeing the beauty without, I think we see the beauty within, or can tap into that beauty.  We can imitate the generous world of which we are part and so be recipients of and givers of grace.

If I take this “favor of God” as a call from the world at large, one to which I can respond with “I’m here” or “Yes,” the idea of external grace works for me.  In my younger days, I think I thought of Grace as God’s presence in the world.  It isn’t too far from that idea that I can see the world beyond, especially if I see it as innately beneficent (a field of blessings), as something radiating grace, and that grace being something I can attune myself to.

Though I don’t currently believe in the biblical God, or a personal transcendent deity, I have to say that I am rather fond of the image of “children of God.”  Looking at humankind with a long lens, where differences in race, gender, sexuality, are ignored or blurred and everyone is seen as a child of God is helpful to me.  I see it as promoting the idea of “inherent worth and dignity of every person” and the “interdependent web of which I am a part.”  So it might be seeing God as that great power source we are all plugged into, whose power is always there for us.  Grace might then be seen as the current of that power.  Being in a “state of Grace” would then mean being in a state of flow, or in some state of aware subsumption.   And that awareness is what I think I’m thinking of, when I think of being a “partaker of divine life” and “eternity.”

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