As a dancer, grace is a word I often hear or say myself. “Put some grace into the movement,” my choreographer would say. “That’s really graceful,” I would comment when watching a beautifully executed duet on the internet. As a Christian, grace is also mentioned all the time. It is a central pillar of the faith. The song “Blinded by Your Grace” by English rapper Stormzy, the classic hymn “Amazing Grace” and many of its modern renditions, saying grace before a meal. It is almost literally everywhere. I wondered about the ubiquity of this word and why is it so. I then turned to http://www.dictionary.com for a clearer picture. It states quite a number of definitions. But I will just highlight a couple that are relevant.
1. (n) elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action
2. (n) favor or goodwill
3. (n) mercy; clemency; pardon
These definitions are rather straight forward. #1 is applicable to the first scenario, and #2 and #3 to the second. What is common between these two groups of definitions? Is it right to say that “grace is graceful” with ‘grace’ taking definitions #2 and #3, and ‘graceful’ taking definition #1? In other words, “Favour, goodwill, mercy, clemency, and pardon are beautiful.” Does this make sense?
When we say that something is beautiful, quite often we feel so instead of thinking so. Thought has a certain logic. Philosophers make sure of that. In other words, for us to think that something is beautiful, we need to check criteria a, b, c, and d in order for it to be beautiful. But, no. What is beautiful to you might not be beautiful to me. Sometimes there is a certain requirements of technicality that needs to be met. In the world of painting, brushing techniques, mixing of inks, colour palette all contribute to a piece of art being “better” and for critics to comment on its beauty. (I am neither a painter nor a critic to have any say on this, but this also applies to many other things like music, sports, or any other human endeavour e.g. “His swing is beautiful. The way he managed to always get the ball to the far end of the court is pure elegance.”) But, on further inspection, that technicality only applies if you are emotionally invested in that particular art form. If you’re not a tennis fan, you’re more likely to say “That guy is good.” instead of “What a beautiful serve.” This line of reasoning that technical prowess equals beauty breaks down even further when you associate a child’s drawing of a giant spaghetti monster or your non-supermodel partner with beauty. It is not a technical and universal idea. It is personal and deeply emotional.
I recently read that the part of the brain that is responsible for feelings and moods is called the limbic brain. This has separate to the neocortex, which is the part responsible for language and reasoning. Which is also why it sometimes is difficult to explain why you think something is beautiful and why you love someone or something. You just do. Beauty is not universal, nor is it rigid. It is hugely different from the nuance of “good”. Anyone can say that anything is beautiful, and their neocortex might not have the ability to explain why.
Moving on to the idea of pardon, clemency, mercy, favour, and goodwill. These refer to someone giving something to someone else. “I pardon you.” “He is doing his son a favour.” and maybe if you’re in court, “Please grant me clemency.” This coincides with the idea of gracefulness, i.e. beauty, being personal. And it usually goes one direction, from the receiver to the giver. When your friend gives you flowers, you find that act a beauty. To strip it down to a transaction, I give you something, you feel something towards me. I can’t think of a better way to phrase it but I hope the train of thought is still going. So it makes sense to say that “Grace is graceful.”
And in the Christian context of grace, to be freely given salvation leads to gratitude, followed by adoration and admiration for the giver. And it is also coincidental, or not, that grace comes from the Latin word gratia and gratitude from gratitudin, thus we say grace prior to a meal as an act of gratitude. The act of giving is received with gratitude, which leads to changes in attitude, further explained in my other post.
To end off, one definition in the dictionary intrigued me a little…
4. (n) moral strength
When I tried to think of synonyms of moral strength, I would think of “authentic”, “integrity”, or “honourable”. Just not “grace”. I guess it takes a little moral strength to extend grace to someone, but I haven’t fully reconciled this point yet.