Be Playful

Aspects of Playfulness: Signposts to Grace

Posted on: 20 October 2008

In the economics of play, the currency is grace.

dancing-in-the-rain
Photo by geeknerd99.

‘Grace finds goodness
In everything’

U2

‘Grace is everywhere, like lenses that go unnoticed because you are looking through them.’
Philip Yancey

There are two kinds of economy: the economy of what is due, and the economy of grace.

Much of life is spent in the economy of what is due – at work we receive the pay that is due to us, shopping we pay the price that is due to the shopkeeper.  In this economy of merit, we get the good things and the bad things that we deserve.

Some of life is spent in the economy of grace.  The mother who loves us unconditionally, a letter of apology after a bitter argument, a stranger who shares his umbrella whilst we stand for a bus in the city rain, an evening sunset of breath-taking beauty.  In the economy of grace we receive beautiful, elegant and surprising gifts, whether or not we deserve them.

Signposts to Grace

sign-post
Photo by nicksarebi.

I want to learn with you how to dance through the world with grace.    As much as I search, I still spend my life learning about grace, journeying through life trying to find her.

I would like to share some signposts I’ve discovered on the road to grace.

Grace means giving more to the world than you take from the world

dancing-sunset
Photo by notsogoodphotography.

‘The cardinal property of the gift is that whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away again.’
Lewis Hyde

We have been given life. Let us choose to live life fully, being an exemplar of all that is good and true and beautiful, sharing the inner life of our soul through our outer life in the world.

We have been given talents and skills.  Let us share the fruits of these with the world – with those who are close that we love, and with the stranger we have never met.

We have been given time.  Let us be generous with our time, giving our full attention to the things we care about rather than shards of attention to many things, most of which we don’t care much for.

As the songwriter Martyn Joseph sings:

Are you down to your last drop of love?
Even so you should give it away.
Let it sail with your dreams to the sun,
And return to you laden with promises.

Grace transforms who we are at the core of our being

‘Gifts are a companion to transformation. A gift may be the actual agent of change, the bearer of new life.  Gifts carry an identity with them, and to accept the gift amounts to incorporating the new identity.  It is as if such a gift passes through the body and leaves us altered.  The gift is not merely the witness of guardian to new life, but the creator.’
Lewis Hyde

Grace is scary because it means change.  To accept a true gift is to accept a new way of being in the world.  If we are feeling devoid of life in our soul, grace fills us with new life and hope.  Hyde writes:

‘Lifelessness leaves the soul when a gift comes towards us.’

In my younger years, I suffered from depression.  I’d lock myself in my room, hiding from the world as a paradoxical cry for attention.  One day my cousin came to visit and I refused to let her in.  My brother, seething with anger at my apparent callousness, broke down my door.  My cousin came into the room and wrapped her arms around me.  At the moment, my brother’s anger and my cousin’s presence were a gift of grace, reviving my depressed and lifeless soul with life and hope.

Giving at life’s events of transformation

Gifts are given at life’s liminal times – christenings, weddings, birthdays, graduations.

Wedding gifts, for example, are the first shared property between a newly-wed couple.  They exemplify a new way of being where all things are shared – material things and concerns of the soul – with another person.  Wedding gifts are an outward sign of a new inner bond.

Grace creates communities

love
Photo by Hamed Masoumi.

A simple way to understand the meaning of a gift is to contrast gifts with commodities.  Commodities are integral to economy of what is due.  We pay a stranger for them, and then we own them, they belong to us.

Gifts, on the other hand, are integral to the economy of grace.  In giving a gift, we create a relationship with the person we are giving to.  A gift is never fully owned by ourselves, but always contains the memory and soul of the person who gave it to us.  This is particularly true when the gift was nurtured or created by the person giving it.

There are two ways to create community.  One is to choose to exclude certain people.  The other is to create community through the giving of gifts.

Grace breaks down boundaries

barrier
Photo by aussiegall.

Gifts break down barriers between people.  This is why we give a bottle of wine or flowers when we are visiting someone for dinner – the gift breaks down the boundary created by our absence.

True grace – the grace of forgiveness – is the most powerful gift of all.  The gift of forgiveness can break down emotional strongholds and fortresses that have stood strong for generations.  Forgiveness is not only a gift to the person being forgiven, but to the person doing the forgiving.  It relieves the tension and bitterness of resentment created by refusing to forgive.

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

U2

Grace seeks out the empty-handed

flower-girl
Photo by malias.

In market economics, to make money you’ve got to have money.    In the economy of grace, to receive a gift, you must be empty-handed.  Grace seeks out the broken and the lost, in the words of Simon and Garfunkel, the ‘the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on’.

As Lewis Hyde puts it:

‘The gift moves from plenty to emptiness.  It seeks the barren, the arid, the stuck, and the poor.’

Kester Brewin transforms this radical economics into a call to action:

‘The market always seeks a profit, but the gift seeks out the empty-handed.  So let us become empty-handed, happy to receive gifts and pass them on into mystery, refusing to hold onto them for our own blessing.’

Grace arrives when you least expect her

Because the gift seeks out the empty-handed, grace always arrives when we least expect her – sometimes when we know that we need her most, sometimes when we’re sure that we’re doing fine-thank-you-very-much and our lives are ruptured by the change and beauty that a gift brings.

The words of Martyn Joseph resonate again:

Are you down to your last ray of hope?
Well they say that’s the moment things turn around.
Don’t you give up the fight, you can cope,
You can be so amazingingly strong.

Grace seeks out the artist who is empty of inspiration, the hungry who hope each day for a meal.

Living this ’empty-handed’ life means not having everything planned out.  Trying to control life anticipates that there will be no grace.  An empty-handed life of giving and grace is a spontaneous life, a life of humble love.

A life of grace means not knowing all the answers.

Grace looks for the good in other people

To be grace-full is to be an eternal optimist; it is to know that everyone has the potential to create wonderful and beautiful things, and to look for (link to digging for gold) and nurture this potential in all people.

‘Grace,’ wrote U2’s lead singer Bono, ‘finds beauty in everything’

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10 Responses to "Aspects of Playfulness: Signposts to Grace"

I’m a volunteer at heart. As I probably written here before, my philosophy of life is “Stay curious and open to life. No matter what happens keep learning and growing. Find what you love to do and find a way to share it with others.” It’s a very simple and rich life.

Jean Browman–Cheerful Monk’s last blog post..please update commentluv plugin

Thanks for your comment Jean. Sharing what we love to do is definitely a signpost to grace.

Thanks David.

I stumbled a bit over there… because I took the other meaning of grace than you intended… I took it to mean decency and decorum and a sense of propriety – something very unplayful.

But after realizing that you intended the other grace – the kind and compassionate grace – your post made total sense.

D’oh me.

Its a very good post. And you have an excellent eye for pictures.

Have you seen the free hugs video? Very very graceful. (can be found on youtube.)

Ankesh Kothari’s last blog post..please update commentluv plugin

Thanks for visiting Ankesh, great to have you here.

Grace can mean so many different things – in this post I meant that it is a gift freely given whether or not it is deserved. I’ll remember to make that clearer next time I am writing about grace.

I’m glad you like the pictures – one of my favourite parts of writing a blog post is searching for pictures.

I’m off to youtube now to look for the free hugs video – I’ve heard a bit about that movement but never seen the video.

David,
A beautiful post…while I do agree that grace give to the empty-handed, grace is available for the hand that is full too. Perhaps a little unknown fact but very true.

You see, You cannot really give away all of the love and grace. You can try. But the mystery is that the more you give out, the more it comes back to you until you are overflowing with abundance. You just have to be open to accepting it.

Wendi Kelly-Life’s Little Inspirations’s last blog post..please update commentluv plugin

Hi David – As I was reading this I realized when we blog, we give of ourselves to others. In our words, in the photos we choose, and in our comments. Thank you for sharing your words, photos, and impressions with me and others who land on this page. It is, indeed, a priceless gift.

Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..please update commentluv plugin

So very grace-ful, grateful, and full I am in receiving this loving reflection of the force of beauty in the world.
Blessed be!
~Samantha

Hi David

I stumbled on your site quite by accident. How wonderful! Just what I need this morning. I’ve read ‘What’s so amazing about grace’ by Philip Yancey. Normally I speed read a book in a few hours but this one took me a year. I’d read a paragraph and then get so angry I’d stew over it for a few days or weeks before picking the book up again. By the end my life had changed for good. I highly recommend it. As for your site – I’m going to tell everyone I know to look it up. Well done!

Sharon

[…] to say thank you whenever gratitude is […]

David: I agree with the previous commenters. The quality of the photographs you’ve chosen for this blog post captures the essence of your points exactly. The quality of your language and its references back to grace as a gift for those who do and do not deserve it are beautifully packaged. Thank you for this artistic piece.

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