Thursday, January 02, 2014
Life in a State of Grace
The church in my neighborhood, from what I can tell after two visits, is a conservative parish in a conservative diocese. I didn't go to Communion yesterday or the day before, and felt people noticing that. People in Catholic churches don't go to Communion if they are 1) not Catholic or 2) not in what the Church calls "a state of grace," meaning that they are conscious of mortal sin on their conscience.
What's great about the Catholic Church, and hard to explain to outsiders, is that we have a sacrament to take care of that. We go to Confession, we repent and we are reconciled and restored — in theory — to the state of grace we experienced as infants, after our baptism washed away our original sin. I didn't go to Confession on Tuesday because there was a line (a line!). I haven't been in 20 years, and will probably need to schedule an appointment to do the thing as it should be done.
The theology of original sin or even mortal sin is a deeper subject than I want to get into today, though I'm fascinated by it as all nice girls (and crime fiction readers) are. No, what I'm after today is this idea of a state of grace, and how we might get there, and whether it's possible to live in it as a steady state instead of those rare moments of enlightenment.
Catholicism has very specific and detailed definitions of different types of grace, but I don't find those especially useful for daily life. What I long for when I imagine a state of grace is a life lived in rhythm and concord with the people and things around me. Does anybody have that? Is it possible, or even worth striving for?
Growth and achievement require conflict — don't they? No one who cares for an infant believes that babies live 24/7 in a state of grace. They need things, they want things, they fear things. All that changes as we get older is that we learn how to manage those needs and wants and fears for ourselves (or we don't). Is grace, then, that Zen state of learning not to care about what we need and want and fear? Of being above and beyond those things? But once we're above and beyond those things, how does any work get done?
I am not a graceful person, in any sense of the word. When I wanted to take ballet classes in first grade, my mother laughed at me — not meanly, but she laughed — because even if we could have afforded it, I was still wearing the shoes that had bars in them to correct my pigeon-toed gait. Lately I have been clumsier than usual, because I can't always see where I'm going and I did something bad to my right knee and I'm carrying at least 50 extra pounds.
But I long for grace. I want to get to a place where I can both stretch and be still, where I can listen without talking, feel without doing. If the world can't be a gentler place, maybe I can be. It's worth trying.