from the spring/summer 2016 issue of Reflections magazine.
To read this article in PDF format Grace Reflected
By the Rev. Carol Morehead
Grace . . . what in the world is grace? I used to wonder that when I was growing up, hearing the word mentioned so often in church. I had some vague notions about grace as a theological concept, but what really was grace?
When I got to graduate school in the 80’s, studying theology, I read a lot about grace. I learned what a pivotal concept it was to so many different religious thinkers – Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, Bonhoeffer – and I found myself more and more uncomfortable as grace was articulated within the Christian world. Total depravity, cheap grace, sanctified grace, actual grace – I felt lost in the words, distanced from grace and knowing what it was. In the tradition of my childhood, grace was a part of the “plan of salvation,” and it felt like just another step in a big plan on some divine whiteboard somewhere. And I was left wanting by all this, thirsting and hungering after something more when Christians talked about God’s grace.
As I moved further into my studies, I discovered the Orthodox view of grace often articulated by the desert fathers and mothers and the Eastern church. Here, grace is found in the Holy Mysteries, the uncreated energies of God in which we participate. Through God’s actions we are shaped and formed in the divine image. Rather than beginning with our sin and corruption and our intellectual assent to concepts about God, the focus becomes who God is and how our deepest self is made in God’s image. Grace is God’s way of drawing us back to ourselves, back to God’s very self.
So I let go – of all the definitions, of the words, of the concepts, and tried to just dwell. Listen. Watch. Allow the Spirit to lead me. In the quiet of my soul, something wonderful began to happen. I began to experience grace, to be aware of the amazing movement of God within my world, through unexpected people and in surprising places.
As my inner world shifted, I began to look back at my life. And I found lovely examples of grace – the teenager who used to read the Bible with me, a third-grader, under the bleachers at softball games; the older man at church who was always there and always offered a caring word to the 16-year-old me who was searching; the youth minister’s wife whose gentle, steady presence and open heart gave me a space to ask questions with her when I couldn’t with others; the college professor who opened her home to me because my parents lived out of the country; the women’s Bible study group who loved me by helping unpack the house when we moved with a newborn baby and my husband had to work long hours at the hospital; the stranger who saw me crying in the airport when I flew home after my mother’s death and simply said they were praying for me, no questions asked.
This list could go on and on, because my eyes were opened to what grace really is – the living, incarnational love of God lavished on me. No matter what. Regardless of what I did – or didn’t – do. Because of who I am – a beloved child of God.
Once I actually experienced grace, I became open to being grace to others, not because I am trying but rather because God is more and more showing up in and through my life. I came to realize that, while we try to articulate what grace is in our words and concepts, grace is always incarnational. Grace is the lived experience of God’s love in our lives. When we – I – realize God’s love is free and abundant, when I am filled up, I see others with new eyes. The way I treat others is not dependent on their actions, but rather on God’s love for them, on seeing the face of Christ in them. It is what our baptismal vows call us to do – to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
Grace is about what God is doing and how we are changed by it. Over and over, God shows grace through the people we meet – every day, in so many places, in big and small ways. Grace stopped being “out there” for me, and became “in here.” As we experience God’s grace, more and more our lives mirror God’s grace.
Niketas Stethatos, an 11th century monk at Constantinople, said this:
If you seek after God with all your heart
and all your strength,
then the virtues of your soul and body
will turn you into a mirror
of the image of God within.
You will be so merged in God,
and God so merged in you,
that each will endlessly repose in the other.
The Rev. Carol Morehead is assistant rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX. Reach her at
To read the entire spring/summer 2016 issue, or to read other articles from the issue, go here.
For further reflection:
When did you first become aware of the concept of grace?
Has your definition of grace changed over the years?
As you think back, who have been the people who were examples of grace for you? Why is that so?
How would you define grace to an unchurched person?
To read this entire issue or other articles from this issue go here