Of Gravitas and Grace

The beginning of the month brings another short reflection from Angeles Arrien’s Living in Gratitude. Her chapter for May is a reflection on the idea of grace, which she defines as “an experience in which individuals slip out of ordinary space and time, where there is no separation between themselves and the world around them, and everything seems perfect just as it is.”

She goes on to make an interesting connection between grace, gratitude, and gravitas, which all share the same root word. Gravitas is what happens when people internalize and integrate their experience of grace, she writes. People with gravitas draw us to them because they embody dignity, integrity, wisdom, substance and presence.

I know a few such people–do you? I think in particular of a friend of mine dying from cancer. Each time I see her she seems both deeper and lighter. Deeper in that she is more reflective, more thoughtful, and more astute, and lighter in that the petty concerns of ordinary life no longer seem to cling to her. That word gravitas is just right in describing her, for she seems to have a gravitational force of her own, drawing people into her orbit.

So in honor of my friend, let me leave you with that wonderful song Amazing Grace, as sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir:


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  • Thanks for sharing this beautiful video. ‘Amazing Grace’ always breaks me wide open.

  • I have a friend like yours. She is homebound because of extreme vertigo. Her suffering could last many, many years with a agonizingly slow decline. She is a magnet, drawing everyone to her. One of the biggest blessings ever in my life is finding her and calling her friend. I take copious notes in my head listening to her and watching how she lives her life. You would hardly know how much she suffers (and I have to remind myself of how much she does) – she does it with such grace. I am hopeful that all I am taking in now will be remembered when I reach the point in my life where true suffering begins.

  • Mississippi Pilgrim

    In my work of recent years–beginning with myself–I have learned and relearned about loss and its impact on individuals, families and whole communities. It is my observation that to the degree the person, the family and the community can still be grateful for what there is as well as find a shred of humor in the situation then healing begins yet also something much deeper. Two Hurricane Katrina stories illustrate…

    The evening of Hurricane Katrina I found a dirt smudged, edges-curling, black & white photo amongst the debris in my front yard of a proud man standing by his black Packard. It was weeks before I found the owner and returned it to the little, old lady on the corner and even now tears come to my eyes remembering her gratitude. It was virtually all that remained materially from her home; we both wept. She then commenced to tell me stories prompted by the photo and her deceased husband who “loved his automobile” and would “take her for a spin but she could not drive it.” The laughter and tears and gratitude we shared that day offered grace to us both.

    When Katrina hit, my dearest neighbor, Vilma, was in the local hospital recovering from knee surgery. Her husband, Frank, was able to remain with Vilma. It was two days before I could get to them; they anticipated the worst had likely happened to me since I opted to not evacuate. Walking into Vilma’s room is an etched memory and feelings tumbled from Vilma and me as Frank quietly sat. I minced no words in telling them their precious home was all but gone but that I had been able to shore up a kitchen wall, crawl over debris and could salvage some possessions. I needed to know what to look for. Vilma asked if her fireplace mantle was in tact. I said I thought so. She said she had only one small photo of her daddy, it was on the mantle and if I could safely get to it she wanted it. I rescued that tiny rust-framed, cherished photo and reverently carried it to Vilma’s hands. After a moment she asked: “Did you see mother’s?” I offered, “Yes, Vilma, but you asked only for your daddy’s.” She turned to her husband and exclaimed, “Frank, she left mother sitting on the mantle!” The three of us laughed and laughed. And, yes, I returned again and again to their home digging items out for them both, saving what was possible before it was ultimately bulldozed. Yet as sad as it was there are yet such wonderful memories for me and for my community. I am grateful…

  • What a way to begin the day. Most lovely.

  • What a way to begin the day! Most lovely.