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The protection of 'amazing' grace

From the December 31, 2012 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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Have you experienced the miracle of grace? The Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “The two foundations; one inward, the other outward; grace, miracles; both supernatural.” The grace of God that changes our hearts seems as supernatural as what we term miracles in our experience. But how do we account for these things? If God is consistent in His actions and purposes, how do we account for grace and miracle?

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “The miracle of grace is no miracle to Love” (p. 494). Later, she defined miracle as “that which is divinely natural, but must be learned humanly; a phenomenon of Science” (p. 591). Grace is easy to recognize, but difficult to define—here we might think of St. Augustine’s words: “What is grace? I know until you ask me; when you ask me, I do not know.”

To me grace means the work of God in our hearts—how God causes us to be spiritually alive, leads us to understand our own true selfhood in the likeness of the divine. Jesus’ contemplation of the Christ, Truth, established his unique identity and animated and empowered his healing. His victory over death is the supreme act of divine grace and promise of eternal life. The Christ is always reacquainting us with our radiant, spiritual selfhood; and this experience is grace! Grace and divine Science are inseparable.

The Apostle Paul first calls the gospel of grace a mystery, but as grace is revealed to him through the life of Jesus Christ, it loses its mysterious nature (see Ephesians 3:2–5). We must abide in Christ in the same way that a branch abides in the vine (see John 15:5–7). In other words, we have to stay close enough to Christ that this life-giving Spirit flows through us in the same way that sap flows from a vine to the branches. How do we do this? By bearing good fruit (see Matthew 7:16–20). And we know the nature of the good fruit, the kind produced by the Holy Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23, New American Standard Bible).

Grace is no miracle to God. Yet when grace is truly lived and applied in our human experience, it may appear very miraculous indeed! No coincidence, perhaps, that we think of it as “amazing” grace. Little did I know, early on, how apropos this concept would become in my experience.

Our daughter was born on September 11, 2001, in our home in Grand Junction, Colorado, at about the time of the strikes on the World Trade Center. Shortly thereafter, I received orders from the United States Army transferring me from reserve to active duty status, requiring me to report to Fort Benning, Georgia, in a short time. As I’d taken my Oath of Office in the Army for the first time in 1978, this mobilization was almost as surprising as the fact that it lasted for nine years. I was about to experience grace from the perspective of a chaplain on active duty with an Army at war!

Military chaplains share a mission: facing some of the darkest moments of the human experience, they bring the light of faith. As I look back over 32 years as a chaplain, and decades of study and practice as a student of Christian Science, I can’t help but reflect on how often I did not feel immediately comfortable or fully prepared to know how to respond to the situation at hand. But in every case just the willingness to connect, knowing that I could trust divine Love to love each individual, was sufficient. When we are willing to represent God’s love in any situation, grace will “much more abound” (Romans 5:20), and all are blessed. God’s promise is an unlimited supply of grace—it is how we overcome the unrelenting suggestions of mortality.

I think back, for example, to a phone call in the middle of the night that sent me to a local hospital to be with the families of three teenagers who had died in an automobile accident. Grace led to the words and actions that began a relationship with these families that resulted in an invitation to deliver a message of hope at the funeral, and established all of us in the process of healing grief.

The student of Christian Science strives to assimilate more of the Christ, Truth. As this is accomplished we are governed by spiritual sense, and error’s pretense can no longer deceive or upset us. Rather than standing shocked and awed by the seeming enormity of error, we recognize that we are dealing with an erring concept in mortal mind. We cease to accept the distressing circumstance as having spiritual legitimacy, but rather see it as animal magnetism attempting to hide the inviolable good that is always present. This mortal sense has no place and cannot invade God’s allness.

Grace so blessed a litany of encounters that flood back into my thought. I did not immediately know how to respond, or what to do or say, in any of these situations—yet divine Love’s omnipotent and eternal embrace encompassed each experience. Working with the families of over 80 soldiers killed in action and over 150 soldiers wounded in action and needing the “grace to go forward” (Christian Science Hymnal, No. 278), I got powerful glimpses into how grace transforms human experience, most especially the assurance that we never walk alone, but always with God and His Christ.

The willingness to connect, knowing that I could trust divine Love to love, was sufficient.

Bereavement and anger often accompany the death or disfigurement of a loved one, and injuries can lead to changes in appearance or mental state that become an obstacle for any relationship. Yet grace helps us reach beyond the boundaries of the mortal and unreal to prove that there is only one destination, one wholeness: the image and likeness of God. Through reconciliation with God and His Christ, we are able to recognize individuality and identity as spiritual, never lost nor found in material beliefs or conditions.

In 2009, when a gunman opened fire on soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood, Texas, I found myself immediately by the side of those killed or wounded, and with their families in the emergency room and intensive care units. There grace arrested and defused many of the implosive and explosive proclamations of the carnal mind—outbursts of anger, resentment, and grief. God is not the source of trials and tragic human experience. Yet the counterbalancing “good news” of Christianity inspired courage and allowed us to surmount that trial, replacing hate and despair with compassion, unity, and even love. Through grace, God’s absolute love redeems us from any sense of evil, just as light extinguishes darkness.

I could speak at length about the blessings to others and to myself that came through these and many other experiences. Reconciliation with the spiritual fact of being brings the healing Christ into our experience—and the Christ brings us to an understanding of man’s perfect relationship with God.

There have been plenty of graceless moments in my experience—moments when I thought I could strong-arm situations through a personal sense of myself, my title, my rank. Moments of confusion. Moments of fear. But it was in moments animated by divine Love that my work was characterized by the miracle of grace. Mrs. Eddy’s words will always challenge and inspire her followers: “I make strong demands on love, call for active witnesses to prove it, and noble sacrifices and grand achievements as its results” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 250). Our daily activity has greater purpose and more joy as we actively express all that God, as immortal Soul, is doing.

Reflecting upon my experience as a chaplain, two comments from commanders remain vivid in my memory. The first is, “His counseling skills and grief ministry truly shined in the crucible of anguish.” The second is, “He revered the soldiers and families he served with untiring pastoral compassion.” These evaluations address not a person, but the miracle of grace. They show how the practice of Christian Science enables one to experience and express grace. 

Grace is the manifestation of divine Love that far transcends our highest conceptions of human love. All mankind shares this calling, this life’s work, this mission, purpose, and function. In these words from Ephesians, it is to come “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:13).

Christopher Cieply lives in Holland, Michigan.

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