Standing in Grace
Through all I’ve been through and all I’ve been asked to work with in life, I’ve come to see that as a master carver whittles aged and weathered wood into a sturdy tool, effort and grace shape us in time into a beautifully wrought instrument ready for use. So our first step toward understanding grace is to summon the fortitude and openness not to resist being turned into an instrument by life.
Consider the ways you’ve been carved by effort and grace: What kind of tool are you becoming? The more we’re opened, the more music comes through us. The more finely we’re shaped by our experience, the more delicate the wisdom that sifts through us. We have no choice in this. It happens the way erosion happens, the way trees grow toward the light and lean toward the wind.
I know in my heart that what shapes me is un-seeable and unspeakable. It just passes through me, the way a flame uses up its wick. Our efforts are consumed, the way wood sparks as it feeds a fire. This is not sad but as it should be. The goal of a life is to have nothing essential left by the time it leaves its body. And the knowable point of love is always the hand that helps another up.
We’re all born with a depth of heart that only unchecked love and care can open. We become of utmost use when we act on this opening of heart. Once we act, we start to live a life that is tender and resilient. Acting on that unchecked love made Mother Teresa stay in India to care for the poor. Acting on that depth of heart made Nelson Mandela say, “We will make a university of our suffering.” The chance and challenge to be of use beyond all our plans is what made Albert Schweitzer leave his tenured professorship in Vienna to become a doctor and open a hospital in Africa.
The ways we’re called to be of use aren’t always as dramatic as these examples. I cite them not for us to emulate but to mirror our own possibility. The call to be of use might appear simply and quietly as the impulse to help a stranger who’s fallen in a parking lot. Or our need one day to stop e-mailing someone who’s going through cancer, but to make our way across town to bring them dinner. Or to stop the car and help the stray turtle to the other side of the road. To be of use always begins with the smallest of steps and an open hand. Acting on our urge to be of use brings our kindness forward. Such humble engagement in the world helps us thrive.
Being well used without giving ourselves away enables our own resilience. The reward for being of use to others is that in time we become useful to ourselves.
The heart’s job is to mirror each other with such love that our souls come out. And listening with our heart is being such a mirror. Ultimately, to love someone is to travel with them to their interior, so our love can be a mirror of all they have yet to see in themselves. The first step in being a global citizen is to honor everyone we meet by mirroring their possibility. In this way, we can be of lasting use.
To be of use is more than problem-solving; it shares the same purpose as art, no matter its form: to marry what is with what can be, to forge dream into reality and circumstance back into dream.
There is no greater grace than to have who we are be of use. When able to be this real and giving, we become elegant, which means we presence truth without anger. We become loyal, which means we offer an unwavering kindness, reliable as sun after rain. Belief has nothing to do with shouting, but with receiving, the way sand believes in surf. And strength is how we help others stay alive without losing our true nature, not caring how we’re bent into the next shape.
Adaptation by Mark Nepo, the bestselling author of The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom that Waits in your Heart published by Atria Books. MarkNepo.com
Poem from The Way Under the Way: The True Place of Meeting by Mark Nepo. Published by Sounds True.
To learn more about the man beloved by so many as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, visit Mark Nepo and explore his work at http://marknepo.com/
This article is a part of the 2016 Holiday - Radical Generosity issue of Whole Life Times.