Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An Inordinate Grace




I expect everything that takes place in my life take place within an established order. After all, there is an order–we inhabit a universe full of laws, and I even presume to understand that. I interpret everything according to my current understanding of the order that I am in, or, at least, the order I can perceive.

What I don't see is that I am asking for a revolution.

I think that when I work, when I engage in what I call a "spiritual" practice, somehow it fits into what I know. Whatever comes, whatever happens, will be bartered, transformed, trimmed, clipped, wedged, and pigeonholed into where I already am. The idea that everything will somehow step directly outside itself–that is, that nothing will be the same, and that all of what I call order will come to a definite end, if any real transformation occurs–this is terrifying. It can't even be considered. It isn't even possible to consider it, because it lies out in what we call the unknown unknown.

I don't know what I don't know, and I can't even know that I don't know it.

For life to be truly experienced in a new way, an inordinate amount of Grace is necessary. This does not have anything to do with me, because Grace is a force that lies outside me and is not under my command. It is inordinate in two ways: first of all, if I am to receive life as life truly can be received, already, it is impossible for me to do this. Only the intervention of higher forces can mediate that experience. So it is inordinate in that it is in excess of anything I know; larger, more generous, on a scale that I know nothing about. In the second way, it is inordinate in the strictest sense of the word: it does not belong to the known order–it lies outside it.

We use the words "attention" and "prayer" as though they were different, but in many senses that is not the case. Attention is a form of prayer, and prayer is a form of attention. Both of these actions in me are necessary, but neither one is sufficient. Only Grace is sufficient, and I cannot know Grace. It can know me, but I cannot know it.

So I ask for a revolution that I don't know about and don't even really believe in. It isn't, after all, possible to believe in the unknown. One can only believe in the known. So the unknown cannot even be a belief of mine. If I believe it, it has already been reduced to the scope of my limited understanding and vision. Only when what arrives is both unknown and unbelievable will I know; and then the words will fail.

The demand is enormous. Grace does not arrive intending to take half measures, or settle for less than everything. Is it a demand I am familiar with; the kind of demand I would put on myself? Of course not. This demand puts me in the position of the lowest common denominator, and takes an eraser to the blackboard I scrawled my life on.

It is as though a man were asked to drink strong wine, never having had it before, and not knowing how difficult it is to drink wine that is so strong. Even with the first draught of the wine, he is overwhelmed. Perhaps, even though he has spent his life wishing for such strong wine, he suddenly sees that he knew nothing about it.

Someone must hold his head up to help him.

May our prayers be heard.