Tiger Hill temple, Suzhou
This series of essays on personal inner practice is dedicated to the memory of Rohan Gupta.
I'm often puzzled about why Grace does not fix me or cure me of my sin, that I might better be a good person- or, if not truly good, at least better than I am, for I see most surely that I am not good and not worthy. It strikes me often that God ought to spend His blessings more on those who are the most deserving; and that those who, in the most ordinary ways display His goodness, ought to know him first and most.
Yet it doesn't work that way; for I have learned that God sends Grace as He pleases, not in the way that it pleases me. He often works through the most broken vessels; He works not when vessels are fit, but most eagerly when they are not fit, since there is nothing God loves more, perhaps, than taking that which is unfit and making it fit. He makes whole; and one can never make whole unless one begins with what is broken. (We should learn from His example.)
Grace, in a word, is sent to help us see ourselves as we are; and it is through that seeing of our selfishness (for if there is anything at all which we need to see within ourselves, it is this) that we can learn what must be surrendered. In seeing, this alone is what to see; and if I see enough how self-willed and self-centered I am, perhaps I will finally bend my knee. This selfishness, after all, is where I break; I break myself within myself, and then break others. My inward being is inattentive and uncaring; and the more I see that, the more I am called towards God, who alone might help me. There is no self-help here except through God's help.
I keep thinking that everything that happens to me is in this world and of this world; and I rarely remind myself that all of this world is so absolutely finite and temporary. Nor do I remind myself that God, though His Grace- and most particularly, for us, Mary and Christ, through their Grace- are trying to prepare me for the kingdom of Heaven, which is eternal and everlasting. While it is entirely true that this kingdom is within, what I do not see is how "within" does not end in death; and that this life is nothing more than a preparation for what is much greater, by Grace, and through Grace, and with Grace. If I lose my way here in life... which is so easy... I will with equal ease lose my way to Heaven. It's really my investiture in this world, without reserving God's inward portion of my Being for God alone (and that, mind you, is exactly where I lose myself and become lost, not only to self but to God and Heaven) that costs me everything. I pay out the good coin of my Being (given by God alone) into this greedy till that hoards everything for itself.
There is a way to come into life in every moment through Grace; sometimes more, sometimes less, but to always let Grace act, directly through this tense and resistant veil of my ego. Grace is a strong thing, in the end, and if I become more willing it must have its way with me despite my inabilities—despite my resistance, despite my unworthiness. This is the most glorious aspect of Grace, that is, its durability.
Some speak of Grace as if it were a delicate thing, but Grace is in fact the most durable force of all, because it is of Heaven. If Grace once acts in truth, and I submit, then Grace can ever be within me. It is the foundation of all faith.
So although I accommodate it, I do not trust in the weakness of the flesh; instead I trust in the strength of the spirit, which effortlessly includes that weakness, and is yet made whole in Grace and in faith.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.