Grace: “God’s unmerited favour, love, or help”. From Latin gratia: “favour, esteem, regard”. Related to gratis: “without recompense, for nothing”. You are afforded help, a favour, for free. You did not ask for it, you did nothing to deserve it, and still it came. It can be a small thing: the sun breaking through the clouds, a piece of music, the kind words of another. Whatever stops you and makes you get lost in the moment. It is a form of wonder, wonder understood as a miracle or object of astonishment, and the emotion connected to such a sight or sound.
The devil works with the law – he is himself bound by the law – while God works both with the law and with grace. When you sign a contract with the devil you are bound to that contract; there are no escape clauses, no exceptions. Even the devil is bound to his own contract, to preside over hell for all eternity. God, on the other hand, can give grace. He can offer a respite, look through the fingers, let you off the hook if he so pleases. For him, the law is never absolute, it can always be changed. To give grace is the ability to give someone a break, not to follow the letter of the law too strictly, to find room for exception. Grace, then, is to be released, if only for a moment, from the clutches of the law, from dreary reality. A short respite from the hell of normality. To step out of time and space and get lost in the moment. To lose myself in the moment: to lose my grip on the seconds and the minutes, stop feeling time. To escape my empirical self who works in the here and now, in a defined space and a defined time. To transcend my mundane circumstances and forget my ego which is bound to this present now.
But can I be available to it? To be available is to be open to the world and to the moment, to be ready to receive it when it appears for me. I have to dismantle my critical filter and take in what is in front of me without prejudice. When I apply my critical thinking I do not recognise grace, I cannot feel the wonder. But there is no point in looking for it either. It would be like begging for a gift. It is given to me when I least expect it. To not expect and at the same time be ready, and not reject it when it appears.
Then, if I want to be philosophical about it, I have to behold it not only with wonder and curiosity but also with a critical mind. Wonder is the first step of philosophy. If I cannot feel the wonder I have nothing to philosophise about since there is nothing I am curious about. Wonder and curiosity go hand in hand. They are not the same, but of the same order, but none of this can happen without availability: that is the first inclination. To be available is to open the doors and receive whatever comes your way. It does not need an object to be available to: the doors can remain open whether anything arrives or not. But for curiosity and wonder to come into action there has to be an actual visitor. Curiosity is a tendency which needs an object in order to be triggered into action. Without this object it remains mere potentiality, an unfulfilled wish. A modus operandi with nothing to operate on. The same with wonder. There has to be something to wonder about. Availability is different, it is the necessary condition which has to be in place for the rest to happen.
Critical thinking comes later, as it should. To start with critical thinking is to become a sceptic. It is a position, but a meaningless one. “I will accept nothing, I will doubt everything.” It is closed, not open. Even Descartes, the great sceptic, started with a sense of vertigo, “as if I had all of a sudden fallen into very deep water”. His doubt was a consequence of his realisations, not a starting point, and his quest became to find something which was absolutely certain.