Reflection of the Week - 22nd November 2022

By Richard Rohr

Posted in Faith

Sharing God’s Grace

For author and historian Diana Butler Bass, gratitude begins with awareness of God’s grace:

The words “gratitude” and “grace” come from the same root word, gratia in Latin. . . . “Grace” is a theological word, one with profound spiritual meaning. Grace means “unmerited favor.” When I think of grace, I particularly like the image of God tossing gifts around—a sort of indiscriminate giver of sustenance, joy, love, and pleasure. Grace—gifts given without being earned and with no expectation of return—is, as the old hymn says, amazing. Because you can neither earn nor pay back the gift, your heart fills with gratitude. And the power of that emotion transforms the way you see the world and experience life. Grace begets gratitude, which, in turn, widens our hearts toward greater goodness and love.

Bass explores the liberating nature of gratitude:

Together grace and gratitude form a different moral “equation.” The standard model of gratitude is a closed cycle of gift and return bound by social obligation and indebtedness, whereby a “benefactor,” a superior of some sort (someone wealthier, more powerful), provides a benefit for another, a “beneficiary,” a person in a state of need or trouble. In the closed cycle, the beneficiary is dependent on the benefactor in a way that feels demeaning or signals indebtedness. . . . Few want to be on the receiving end of an unequal transaction. . . .

If we change a closed system to an open one, banishing transaction and substituting grace, the picture of gratitude shifts. In the closed cycle of debt and duty, the roles of benefactor and beneficiary are static, and gifts are commodities of exchange, based in transaction and control. . . . But in an open cycle of gratitude, gifts are not commodities. Gifts are the nature of the universe itself, given by God or the natural order. Grace reminds us that every good thing is a gift—that somehow the rising of the sun and being alive are indiscriminate daily offerings to us—and then we understand that all benefactors are also beneficiaries and all beneficiaries can be benefactors. All that we have was gifted to all of us. There would be no benefactors if they were not first the recipients of grace. In other words, gifts come before givers. We do not really give gifts. We recognize gifts, we receive them, and we pass them on. We all rely on these gifts. We all share them.

This is not a fulfillment of duty or a single act of kindness, but an infinite process of awareness and responsive action. The gift structure of the universe is that of an interdependent community of nature and neighbor that extends through the ages in which we care for what was handed to us and give gifts to others as a response. This is not a closed circle of exchange; it is more like the circles that ripple across a pond when pebbles are tossed into the water.

 

References:
Diana Butler Bass, Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Giving Thanks (New York: HarperOne, 2018), 19–20, 20–21.
Source: © Richard Rohr 21/11/2022 Center for Action and Contemplation (cac.org)

 


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