Providence and the Gift of Grace

The late Thich Nhat Hahn once was quoted to offer this meditation: 

Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others. Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. The Question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We don’t have to travel far away to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to leave our city or even our neighborhood to enjoy the eyes of a beautiful child. Even the air we breathe can be a source of joy. We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive at the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment. … 

This week I want to look at the Christian experience of Providence as it is related to the spiritual practice of Grace. Secondary to the practice of grace is mystery and cultivating an acceptance of living with unknowing. Grace is a gift of God or a gift from the divine. It comes to us at God’s initiative there are some things we can’t do about grace. We cannot earn it. We cannot control it. We don’t have to deserve it.  

Providence then is the quality in divinity on which humankind bases the belief in a benevolent intervention in human affairs and the affairs of the world. This belief will change between the context and culture in which it is experienced. Providence can also be seen as the forseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth.  

I like this second though better because I feel it better ties into this notion of an open and relational God. Too often these days, I run into people who continue to present with a notion of God that was handed to them that no longer fits their world view. Did God provide us with all this suffering? There is then a slippery slope that happens with some Christian circles. First, we talk about God’s grace, a loving, maybe an omnipotent God and then they will slip into the “God will not give you more than you can handle” and this is where things seem to go off the rails.  

In the Talmud, providence is summarized in the dictum of Akiva (Avot 3:15): “All is foreseen, but the freedom of choice is given, and the world is judged with goodness, and all is in accordance with the works”. There is a balance between freedom of choice and predestination. Some things do happen for a reason, but we also have a choice in how we deal with those things.  

Openness to receiving the sacred presence of the divine in our life is how grace works. This receptivity helps us let go of the feelings that we must have screwed something up, that we are bad, that we are sinful. As the sun rises and falls each day, grace too, happens.  




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