Gratitude, Grace and Ungrace

Daryl Chow

Today is the feast of the Franciscan friar and philosopher Bonaventure, He was canonised in 1482. The saint says, “To know much and taste nothing-of, what use is that?” Perhaps our endeavour is not only to improve, learn and discover things but also to uncover and experience the trees and taste our sandwich, absorb the whimsical and maybe even downright irrationality in the younger generation as we might see ourselves in them… savour the sound of silence and the beauty of cacophonic sounds arising from music and modern living… And the feeling of breathing in this body that we have with a no-deposit-required, time-limited lease. When we truly take all of this in, we are reflexively led to a place of involuntary gratitude. 

My eldest sister had a poster that read, “Lord, give me one more thing, a grateful heart. “When she left for Perth when I began to develop acne, I stole that poster and left it behind my door. It became my prayer. To me, gratitude is like John the Baptist, pointing his finger to the moon, and telling us not to fixate on the finger but where he’s pointing at. And if we take heed, Gratitude leads us to Grace, John’s cousin. 


One of the most illogical and distinctive foundations of the Christian faith is this notion of Grace. God only knows how much we implicitly wrestle with this idea of Grace. Unlike your school grades, how much savings you manage to compound into your bank account, or even how much trust you develop with friends, *there is nothing that you can do to earn more Heaven credits.* There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. We need to be that “grace-full-ness” to each other. 


Being a practitioner of the inner life,I have in the therapy room listened to countless numbers of people who have unspoken guilt and shame festering within. These feelings are often manifested as self-criticalness leading to depressive and anxiety symptoms. Their stories speak not only of “I have done something wrong,” but more deeply rooted beliefs of “I am something wrong.” And when I listen to stories of people seeking to heal these inner wounds, it is not uncommon to hear too that many of their lived experiences of “ungrace come from interactions with their religious community. How could the very wellspring for compassion and acceptance be a source of double shame? Perhaps if we look at family life, we can recognise that the place of healing is often the same place of hurt. Memoirist Mary Karr hit the nail on the head when she said, “A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” 

What we need now, more than ever before, is conversation, not “conversion”. Our evangelical zeal can sometimes impede true compassionate dialogue. More often than we realise, we end up trying to convert others to our point of view. Chilean biologist and philosopher Humberto Maturana points out that violence is an imposition of an idea onto another. Writer and Presbyterian minister, the late Eugene Peterson says: “God’s answer to us are (sic)our prayers.” I think he’s right. It is more than a clever turn of phrase. When we pray, that is God listening to us into speech. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could listen to each other into speech. Conversation, not conversion! 


Gratitude, Grace and Ungrace

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