Here’s an old joke:
A rope walks into a bar, sits down, orders a drink. The bartender says, “Hey buddy, we don’t serve your kind here.”
Dejected, the rope leaves. Outside he ties himself into a knot, frays his ends, and walks back into the bar. The bartender stops him and says, “Hey! Aren’t you that rope I just sent out of here?”
To which the rope replies, “No. I’m a frayed knot.”
Some days I feel like a frayed knot. I feel overwhelmed with the needs of the world and the ways in which I am heartsick when hearing news reports of cruelty perpetrated by individuals, corporations, and governments. I know from conversations with friends and posts on social media that many of my friends and acquaintances are also feeling frayed…and afraid.
There is a need for grace and love in all our lives. The cries of oppressed people and of Mother Earth are often in my ears and echoing in my soul. I feel helpless and frustrated by my inability to fix anything, and I often feel very small and insignificant. And, that is where the concept of grace comes in.
Grace has so many definitions: ease of movement, an act of clemency, a space of time before a bill is due, and moral strength are some of them. But here, I want to talk about the grace that comes from the influence or spirit of the Divine operating in humans to strengthen us, and how it can often feel like we are on the very limits of our strength, which is where the frayed knot comes in. We are often on the raggedy edge of grace…past the knot in our rope and trying to hold our shit together in the face of disappointments, frustrations, and exhaustion.
We hear talk of days in which “people had it easier”, but I don’t really know if those days were ever really present. It’s common for we humans to long for a nostalgic past, an idealized version of what was, a return to “simpler times”. But I think those times were only true for a few people–most of whom were white, financially well-off, free, and primarily male. Given that people who fit into these categories often held others in bondage of one form or another, I don’t think there was such a time when people who were not part of that narrow-but-powerful category had it much easier than today.
We are called on to stand up for each other and to add to the peace in the world, even if that means saying or acting against the status quo. That standing up can feel frightening and dangerous even in the imagining of it. The grace which strengthens us can feel sparse or scattered which leads to that frayed knot. At these times I am reminded of this quote from the Talmud:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
Yes, we are all called on to do our part in helping to bring peace and love to others as well as ourselves. Some of us are meant to do that through organizations that help on a large scale, who work through agencies and governments and corporations to counteract the cruelty of other organizations. Some of us are called to work on smaller scales in our communities, social or religious organizations, and small companies. ALL of us can do this in our personal relationships: seeking peaceful resolutions to conflicts through listening, respecting another person’s perspective, honoring each other’s experiences, and choosing to love without losing ourselves.
Sometimes the best you can do is rest yourself for the next task. We all have times of weariness and times of energized action. We can encourage each other to hang on to that raggedy edge of grace and to take time for renewal so that we can step back into the work of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with and for each other.
Breathe. No one can save the entire world alone. We are here to learn to work together with and through our differences to further the unfolding of peace and love in myriad ways. There is no “one right way” but many paths to loving wholeness that celebrates different perspectives while standing against oppression. Breathe again, and know that you are part of a vast web of loving actions that you will never see directly. That is grace.