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The Love That Greets Us on the Way

I’ve spent a bit of time ferrying back and forth to the mainland this week which has given me the chance to finally dive into Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies.  This is my first exposure to Lamott, but those who have read her will know that she comes up with some fairly memorable (and sometimes deliciously irreverent!) lines.  I came across this one sometime around 1:00 am on the ferry last night:

Grace… is unearned love—the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.  It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.  Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    Yes. This is grace. This is mercy. “The love that goes before, that greets us on the way.”

    June 11, 2010
  2. Al #

    Luke 15:20 “He got right up and went home to his father. When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. ”
    Now that is what grace is.

    I like Anne Lamott. She knows what to call a spade.

    June 11, 2010
  3. jc #

    The idea of grace being unearned love strikes me as being a bit peculiar. I usually think of grace as being at least in part earned. For example, perhaps someone you have loved for awhile has proven themselves to be worthy of it and they make a mistake which may call for a little ‘grace.’ I could understand grace in that instance but Lamott’s definition seems to lead to some odd conclusions about love. In the context of a spouse then(following this Lamott’s logic) my love should extend to her whether she is faithful to me or whether she is a prostitute. By rights it shouldn’t matter to me what kind of person my spouse is if my love is going to have to be given out without being earned.

    June 11, 2010
    • Ken #

      Lamott’s grace is that of Luther. It is not earned. It is love given to the undeserving. It is a passionate love.

      June 11, 2010
    • James #

      Love that is “given out without being earned” is the precise definition of grace. It is supposed to strike us a peculiar. “If we think we understand it we don’t”. [a rough translation of Tertullian’s “it is true because it is absurd”.]

      June 11, 2010
    • In the context of a spouse then(following this Lamott’s logic) my love should extend to her whether she is faithful to me or whether she is a prostitute. By rights it shouldn’t matter to me what kind of person my spouse is if my love is going to have to be given out without being earned.

      I suppose you could point to the book of Hosea as an example that this is precisely what the love of God is like. I think the kind of grace we see in Scripture has always been seen as scandalous, both by those inside and outside the church. I’m not sure that kind of grace can be extended by anyone but God.

      June 11, 2010
      • jc #

        Would you consider Hosea as some sort of moral ideal? Is it better to love someone who holds none of the values you do? Then you could ‘love’ them in spite of the fact that they contradict all of the things you believe in therein achieving that moral ideal of grace. I don’t think that something is true because its absurd. I find this idea of grace to be morally repulsive. I can’t imagine I would like to be the recipient of this type of grace either.

        June 11, 2010
      • I don’t know if would consider the story of Hosea to be a moral ideal. I don’t think we’re supposed to go and seek out those whose values differ from ours in order to find a better kind of love. Maybe another way to get at your initial question would be to take the discussion from a spouse to a child. I can imagine that my love for my children would persist far beyond their ability to earn it. I can imagine loving them in spite of an awful lot of bad decisions on their part. I can even imagine loving them when their values differ quite starkly from my own. Does our love for our children have limits? Do they have to “earn” it at some point? Maybe. Or maybe our love for our children is to a large extent unearned.

        Having said all that, I think the story of Hosea is told primarily in order to portray how God is said to love his people. As I said, I don’t think anyone can (or perhaps even ought to) love like the Hosea example except God.

        June 11, 2010
      • Ken #

        Grace is not a moral ideal. Grace is repulsive to moralists. Morality is an impediment to love.

        Hosea is a problematic example. While it does illustrate grace or mercy in the context of God’s love for Israel, it accomplishes it in a way that contributes to the Bible’s overall repulsive patriarchal presentation of women. In that sense it is far from an example of grace.

        Lamott’s example is better than Hosea in that sense. Although her examples reflect a middle class lightness that has its own problems, they offer a better way to begin to see grace – they contain no morality. Her examples contains words that are key in expressing what grace is and feels like, words like “help you receive” and “grateful.” Grace is always something one receives. It fills us. It brings joy and tears.

        June 12, 2010
      • James #

        “I find this idea of grace to be morally repulsive.” At least you are consistent,JC. And you have impressive company, most notably Nietzsche and Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor.

        June 12, 2010
      • “Morality is an impediment to love.”

        Please elaborate why this is so. Plato’s symposium comes to mind. While he was using the term eros it still helped show how one type of love can be directed to expose something greater that does in fact have a large impact on morality.

        I can also cite times in my own life where morality has not impeded me to love, but rather it encouraged me to. It encouraged me to let go of things so I could love.

        Maybe I am just missing something here.

        June 12, 2010
      • Ken #

        Tyler, I wrote that in the context of discussing JC’s posting, and in relation to the meaning of divine love in the Bible, not in relation to Plato’s discussion of love in the context of Greek mythology and philosophy.

        June 13, 2010
      • Can you please explain it further in the the context of the bible, it is a fascinating statement.

        June 13, 2010
      • Ken #

        Tyler, such love is not impartial, it favors one over another, it ignores rules, it ignores faults, it ignores consequences all for the sake of union with the beloved. God’s passionate love for Israel is the premier example of such love in the Bible, and it is presented in the context of God’s love for the world.

        Morality says “no” to such things. A moralist obeys rules, weighs consequences, admires impartiality, judges fault, resents favoritism and leniency. (As in the Book of Jonah, the moralist.)

        Pity the one who loves a moralist.

        God’s passionate love for Israel is the premier example of love in the Bible, and it is presented in the context of God’s love for the world.

        This kind of love is presented brilliantly as an ethic, a feminist or woman’s or mother’s ethic, or as a critique of western ethics, by Carol Gilligan in her book, In a Different Voice. If love has an ethic it is an ethic of care.

        June 13, 2010
      • Ken, thank you for elaborating. Very insightful.

        June 14, 2010
      • James #

        Indeed!

        June 14, 2010
  4. Al #

    “Is it better to love someone who holds none of the values you do?” I see your point, jc, and don’t think that love is better just because it is unearned. After all, there must be value in responding to love with love in return. And it makes sense to cooperate with those who hold to similar values as you do.
    However, there are times when we can potentially be blessed by love that we didn’t earn. And sometimes even give that kind of unsolicited love to someone.

    June 11, 2010

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