Snippets of possible definitions of grace

How might anyone offer up definitions of grace? Perhaps, instead of defining it, it is better to offer an incomplete list of places where grace occurs.

Grace is the prayer our forefathers said before and after meals, and which for many of us is lost, and in losing it, I think, we lose more than just a short prayer.

Grace is an Irish ballad about the marriage in prison of a leader of the Easter Rising, Joseph Plunkett, to his fiancée, the artist Grace Gifford.

Oh, Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger
They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love, I place this wedding ring upon your finger
There won’t be time to share our love for we must say good-bye

Grace is how Seamus Heaney described his relationship to poetry. His teaching, he said, was his work; his poetry was his grace*.

Grace is the word used to describe Mary, the mother of Jesus: “Hail Mary, full of grace”.

Grace is the name of my young cousin, who smiles easily and often, a smile that radiates joy and warmth and intelligence and, yes, grace.

Grace is how Caroline Myss described the energy of the El Camino: “this thousand-year-old walk is a tunnel of grace”.

Grace is, perhaps, indescribable. It’s a feeling that is by necessity wordless. Maybe “grace”, in its soft single syllable, is the best word for something so simple and yet so profound and central to the entire human experience of the world.

There are a couple of definitions I found in an academic article about Heaney called “Gravity and Grace: Seamus Heaney and the Force of Light”, which describes grace as

mystical unions with the divine

and

experiences of transcendence.

For now, for me, that will do as well as anything.

A life full of grace is reserved for the most devout amongst us, perhaps.

But a life with experience of grace?

That seems to be possible for us all, and all it takes is for us to be open to accepting grace when it comes, and it is sure to come.


* These words of Seamus Heaney have been lodged in my head for several years. I’ve struggled to find the source, but it may be somewhere in the excellent two-part radio documentary, Professor Heaney, about his time at Oxford and Harvard universities.