Grace Under Fire


About a month ago, I tried to write a sermon and got stuck. Mostly when this happens, I leave it for a while and then go back and try it again. This time, it didn’t work. I showed what I had managed to write to my editor, and she said it didn’t make sense.

I was blocked. Nothing would come.

Then, on Good Friday evening I was sitting in a noisy bar talking with friends about the nature of friendship and how valuable a good friend is and where we learn the values of friendship. For example, the martial art that we share together is the glue that binds us together as a group of friends. We talked about how the focus of our practice is fundamental to how we face our daily lives, how the desire to improve must be stronger than the desire to ‘win,’ how in life, as in martial arts, there is no end point toward which you travel, but only the journey.

We talked about how lucky we all are to have each other as friends – as companions on that trip. We are all very different, and the differences help. We talked about how fortunate we are in our Sensei, and how the senior students are role models for the juniors. We talked about how hard good role models are to find, especially (dare I say it?) for men. I said how lucky I am to have walked into the dojo on the day I did, and how I recognized within half an hour that I was “home.”

And my friend said, “Yes, it isn’t luck, it is a matter of grace.”

Thirty-three years ago, my wife collapsed and was diagnosed with a brain tumor while we were on vacation at my parents in the United States. We were a long way from home, broke, and with no insurance. Back in Wales, our friends did fundraisers, held bake sales, sponsored runs, and otherwise saved our bacon. They paid our bills and got us home. Back in the Teifi Valley at last, a woman from the local radio station came to interview me.

“Do you think it’s fair that your friends had to raise so much money for you?” She asked.

“Fair? What’s fairness got to do with this?” I answered. “Was it fair that my wife got cancer? Is it fair that the United States has such a useless health system? My wife did not deserve to get sick, and we do not deserve to have friends like this. NOBODY deserves friends like this. It isn’t a matter of deserts. It’s a matter of grace!”

She stood with her mouth open for a moment, and said, “Thank you very much,” and turned off the recorder.

Grace is defined as simple elegance or refinement of movement, poise, finesse; and the free, unmerited favor of God.

The two most important words here are simple and unmerited.

Simple, because in movement, whether in dance, or acting, or martial arts, or drawing, beauty doesn’t require anything fancy. The simple graceful move of a gesture will say enough and can become the foundation for any complexity you might need to add.  

Unmerited, because the dumb luck involved in finding the right place to train and meeting the right people to train with isn’t something you earn. You don’t earn points from the universe that buy you good luck. Or friendship. Or love. These things are a matter of grace. Unmerited.

I have often said that if you are looking for God anywhere but inward, you are facing the wrong direction. The source of grace is in you and in the people surrounding you. You have to be brave enough to look for the place where you belong, smart enough to recognize it, and strong enough to dig in. And then you must have the grace to treasure it, and work for it, and do your part to make it what you and your world needs.

It can be a job, or a sword school, or a Masters’ Degree course, a Dungeons and Dragons group, or a club, or a church. Or your family. Or your friends. With a little grace, it can be the whole world.

I have seen dancers and martial artists and actors and acrobats and artists move with outstanding grace. And I have seen ordinary, simple people live with amazing graciousness. And I see that in life as in art, with care and attention, the simple, learned ability to do the simple, elegant thing creates beauty. Beauty on the page. Beauty on the stage. Beauty in the street.

Grace is given to all of us every moment, and it is to be found in yourself.

What does it take, after all, not to be a dick?

Just a little grace.



With thanks to Abbott and Don, who reminded me of the nature of Grace.

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