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Grace in Practice


Text Message for the Otherworld

When I was in school, Facebook was young. One evening, I saw a dead classmate’s profile, his picture featured on the sidebar, a recommended friend. I spent the next hours perusing the status updates he had posted when he did not realize his days were numbered. For anyone wondering, now Facebook has an answer for […]

Not a Product of Narrative or Moral Cause-and-Effect

This is too fabulous to bury in a weekender, the conversation between poet Kaveh Akbar and essayist (and 2019 Mbird Conference speaker!) Leslie Jamison, published last week on The Paris Review. The occasion for the interchange is the release of Jamison’s new collection Make It Scream, Make It Burn, which also contains a version of the essay she read at our conference. No, er, surprise but fresh language for our favorite subject abounds:

AKBAR

Can we begin by talking about grace? One of the things I’m most drawn to in the book, and in your work more broadly, is the steady orbit you make around the idea of grace. There’s a moment in one of the early essays in this collection where you crystallize it, writing: “The definition of grace is that it’s not deserved.” I have been grappling with this idea in my own life, the notion that if I’m capable of doling out grace only to those obviously deserving of it, it isn’t grace exactly. It’s kindness or it’s pity or it’s maybe even just propriety. What is grace to you? And what can it do?

JAMISON

Starting with grace is like diving into the deep end of the swimming pool—so much better than slowly lowering each inch of thigh down the steps in the shallow end. Or maybe it’s really like diving into the deep end of an infinity pool, where you come up to the edge and see that below is a more infinite body of water than the one you’re swimming in. Which is part of what grace means to me, you feel the world get larger around you, feel yourself get smaller within it. And the world can get large around you in so many ways. As a bespoke digital wonderland, as the infinite hall of mirrors of your prior lives, as a big blue whale large enough to swallow us all. All of these things—mythic whales, past lives, digital waterslides—can be sources of grace. The vending machine of grace is vast and it never gives you exactly what you asked for. And that means we have to pay attention, because we’re not always aware that grace has arrived. As you wrote, “I live in the gulf / between what I’ve been given / and what I’ve received.”

It makes me think of a beautiful sentiment I once heard from a stranger, Sometimes the solution has nothing to do with the problem. I think surprise is an important part of grace. You thought you wanted cookies, but you really needed seltzer. Grace isn’t the thing you planned, it’s what you get instead. Which is maybe connected to the ways you and I want to uncouple it from a sense of contingency or deserving it. It’s not a product of narrative or moral cause-and-effect. It catches you off guard…

Surprise is sometimes my working definition of God. Or grace.

PZ’s Podcast: Susan, Downhill Racer, and Under a Cloud

EPISODE 280: Susan Human nature is extremely vulnerable. I’m thinking of one’s inwardness, and the way a seemingly small rejection, loss or blow of some kind can be enough to unravel a person’s entire equilibrium. You can compare yourself, even if you’re basically a coper — many people aren’t — to the seemingly impregnable ‘Death […]

Pastor to the Stars: A Letter to Adele

Dearest Adele, Thank you so much for the care package I received today. My nephew has just set me up with a new “boombox” I believe they call it, so I’m all set to listen to that “25” CD (he had to explain to me that your album titles correspond to your various ages at […]

Taylor Swift and the Ministry of Retribution

True fans of Taylor Swift will smell something fishy about the New York Times headline, “Taylor Swift, Philosopher of Forgiveness.” Because when it comes to Taylor’s philosophy of forgiveness, what songs come to mind? Maybe her early hit “Picture to Burn”? Or its music video in which she fantasizes about breaking into an ex’s house […]

A Song of Forgiveness

This one comes to us from Will Ryan. I have an hour-long one-way commute. I can drive that path without much thought anymore, so I get a little bored. I now have an Audible subscription, and that helps. I subscribe to any number of podcasts. Sometimes I even listen to a baseball game. Recently, though, […]

The Literature Is Instagram: On Self-Care, Not Self-Help

Sayonara self-help, hello self-care. From The New York Times Kate Carraway traces the evolution of the more rules-based improvement movement into the newer, more feelings-based one. Whereas self-help “sought to categorize and instruct,” self-care now aims to “to soothe and calm.” Overall, the shift is positive: When you’re agitated, angry, or anxious, instead of imposing expectations, […]

Leslie Jamison on Self-Forgiveness and Shame

The most recent edition of Image features a lovely interview with Leslie Jamison. We can’t stop writing about her, especially after her extraordinary talk at our conference this year in New York. In the interview, she discusses a number of other concerns—the fear that our feelings are clichés, that privilege and difference inhibit resonance with […]

The Grace of Ordinary Dog Days

It’s summer and the liturgical calendar rolls through Ordinary Time. True enough, the phrase “The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time” doesn’t exactly titillate the senses. But this “ordinary” does not imply commonplace or routine events. It refers to a sequence of ordinal numbers—first, second, third and so on. For followers of Christ, this “ordinary” denotes […]

PZ’s Podcast: The Treasure, Tyrone Davis and the Future of Mankind, How Exactly Does Love Come Down, Widow’s Pique, Running a Losing Race, and Bonaparte’s Retreat

With apologies for our negligence, here’s a trove of summertime PZPs for you: EPISODE 273: The Treasure A little bit of surgery can compose the mind, right? In any event, in my recovery I went back to Nevil Shute’s novel The Rainbow and the Rose. It concerns the twilight of a man’s life as he lies […]

Hands Full of Life in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

The Eucharist is honestly bizarre. To the untrained observer, the sight of a coterie of nicely dressed congregants sauntering up to an altar, kneeling with outstretched hands and soberly sanguine faces proves utterly bewildering. Of course this is only the modus operandi of some more traditional denominations; others have learned how to logistically and visually […]

The Art of a Good Apology: Our Q&A with Harriet Lerner

Another glimpse into the newest magazine. Order up: they’re going quick!  Rare is the 6-year-old kid who, if asked what job they’d like to have when they’re older, would answer “psychologist.” Astronaut or movie star perhaps, but headshrinker? Very few kids even know what the word means! Dr. Harriet Lerner is not your average bear. […]