The French philosopher, Simone Weil wrote about this idea of gravity and grace. I am not nearly smart enough to totally understand what she meant when she wrote about it, more than half a century ago, but I heard Pete Rollins describe it a little like this:
We live in a world that operates by the laws of gravity. It’s the way things are, the natural and social rules of the culture we exist in. Gravity literally and metaphorically brings order and routine and structure to our world.
But every now and again we catch these glimpse of grace. When the system is disrupted. When there is a gap in the way things usually are, to make room for a way of doing things that isn’t typical. They are glimpses of goodness and mercy in a world that is run by order and law.
After hearing this idea several weeks ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And in fact, as we’ve moved in to this week of Thanksgiving, starting out the official holiday season, it’s an idea I’ve been mulling around in my mind even more.
The gravity these days, is the reality of the polarizing and conflicted times we live in. The law of the land and the sign of the times is the extreme positions and feelings we have and the contradictions and conflicts we experience, filling our screens and our minds and our conversations. The gravity is that the gap between us seems to be widening, and our ability to see the humanity in the other, lessening.
Another word for gravity is “pressure” or “heaviness”. And when I think about the way we are operating lately, that seems right. It is heavy. It does feel like a weight. It’s hard to bear the reality of what is true of our country and our differences and our intensely felt emotions on all ends of the spectrum. The gravity is, we are living in this place and there doesn’t seem to be much of a way out.
But then there’s this grace.
And the grace is that in spite of all that feels horrifyingly wrong, and irreparably broken between us, there are moments when sometimes a connection happens anyway. When we see beyond our positions to the person who holds them. When we look past our disagreements to the humanity among us. When we don’t end up on the same page at the end of the day, but we end up in the same state of mind—civil and gracious and curious.
I think the goal this holiday season shouldn’t be to eliminate the gravity, but to add moments of grace to the gravity that will never, and to a degree, should never go away. We need the gravity, after all. We need opposing ideas and thoughtful discourse and conflicting opinions and relationships with people not like us, because the healthiest way to live life is in tension, maintaining balance, even though it’s exhausting, even though it’s the harder work. The gravity isn’t going anywhere. But what if we worked for a grace?
The grace we should work for this Thanksgiving is a grace where we look the other in the eye over the mashed potatoes and corn pudding and maybe even exchange a smile. It’s a grace that searches out the lowest common denominator between us and the people we bump up against philosophically and says, we will never agree on politics, but can we at least agree that nothing beats a fried turkey? It’s a grace that permits us to tag team on the dishes with someone who voted this past year in a way we still can’t wrap our minds around, and raises a toast along side someone else who has bumper stickers on their car that makes us cringe every time we see them. It’s a grace that allows us to share a table, if not a viewpoint, share a meal, if not the same opinion.
This Thanksgiving there’s a lot of us heading into homes and family gatherings where the gravity of the world we live in weighs heavy on our shoulders. Where disputes are heated and conflict unavoidable. We are coming face to face with a difficult to navigate reality among the people we are bound to by blood and marriage, and it’s hard. The gravity is hard. But I think we can be carriers of grace. I really do. I think we can look back at these holidays and be pleased, and probably a little but puzzled at how we made it through and maybe even enjoyed some moments of grace in the most unlikely places. I think the week will be a week of gravity, like the world always is, and maybe even more so as we exist in close quarters with equally strong and opposing forces. But I think the time will be ripe to experience a grace and a kindness and a compassion in the midst of it, surprising us, wowing us, quieting us, when we least expect it.
We live in a world of gravity. That’s okay. Today, work on being a giver of grace in a place that needs it. Your family. Your table. Your people.
Start with what we share. And go from there.
In other words, never under estimate what a shared disdain for Jell-o salad can do, to ease the tension in the most awkward of family dynamics. Just try it out. It may bring a grace you never saw coming.