Stepping Into Grace by Alan Cohen
July 10, 2016
The following piece from Alan Cohen was the inspiration for this Sunday’s talk (July 10, 2016). Ellen Fannin read the piece in her Opening Prayer and we are providing it here along with a link to his work. God Bless You!
From Alan Cohen’s July 2016 Easeletter:
This month our country will experience two political conventions that represent more disunity, chaos, and lack of confidence in potential leaders than our country has ever known. Political rallies have been characterized by fistfights. Our country has been at war for 14 years, with no end in sight. Terrorists are bombing airports. Random shooters are taking out large numbers of innocent people. Fear, greed, corruption, racism, lying, and selfish interests seem to rule. Is this madness an indication that humanity has sunk to the brink of oblivion?
I have a different take on the craziness. I believe that we are in the midst of a huge transformation—of which you are a vital part—and as a result, a dirth of muck, insanity, and weirdness are coming up for cleansing and healing. This process is like the agitation cycle in a washing machine. All the dirt comes to the surface so it can be purged. If you didn’t know this was just one phase in a larger cycle, you would be disgusted by the sight and smell, and you would think that muck has triumphed. But it hasn’t. It is in the final stage before it is flushed away.
Behind the horrid news stories and media hypes, fundamental human goodness thrives. The darkness actually calls forth the light because it presents us with the stark and unmistakable contrast between what we want and what we don’t want. When we make that vital choice, goodness ensues because it is connected to Spirit, and dysfunction is not. Nature bats last, and our deepest nature is to be divine.
For three years I have been searching for and finding demonstrations of the presence and power of grace as the abiding redeeming quality of humanity. Such moments give me faith that there is an element of our psyche that, when given the opportunity, chooses mercy over abuse; kindness over separateness; and love over fear. Here are a few of them:
When Julio Diaz stepped off the No. 6 subway train in the Bronx, he was faced with a teenager pointing a knife at him. The mugger demanded Julio’s wallet, which he gave willingly. As the robber began to flee into the night, Julio called to him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
Stunned, the boy turned and asked Diaz, “Why are you doing this?”
“If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner. If you really want to join me . . . Hey, you’re more than welcome.”
In a real-life scene that would strain credibility as fiction, the two made their way to a diner where they sat in a booth, shared a meal, and talked about their lives. When Diaz asked the teen what he wanted out of life, he couldn’t answer. He just displayed a sad face.
When the time came to pay the bill, Diaz told the fellow, “I guess that since you have my wallet, you’re going to have to treat.”
The young man gave Diaz back his wallet, Diaz paid for dinner, and gave the fellow $20. Diaz asked for something in return—the kid’s knife—and he gave it to him. “If you treat people right, you can only hope they treat you right,” Diaz later concluded. “It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.” (Click here to see a touching dramatization of the event.)
Fifty-year-old Wesley Autrey, while waiting for a Manhattan subway train, watched a young man be overtaken by an epileptic seizure and fall off the platform into the path of an oncoming train. In a flash, Autry jumped onto the tracks, covered the man’s body with his own, and pushed himself and the fellow into the gutter between the tracks. The train, unable to stop, hurtled over the two men. When it finally passed, onlookers were amazed to see both men emerge unscathed. The train had passed so close to Autrey’s head that his ski hat was smudged with grease from the train’s undercarriage.
In an NPR interview following the incident, Autrey revealed that years earlier a street thug had pointed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger. Miraculously, the gun did not go off. “I figured I still had a purpose on earth,” he remarked. “Maybe helping the man who fell was why I had to stick around.”
(This is an older story, but it represents the greatness of which we are capable when we stay in our right mind.) On a bleak January night during the Great Depression, court was about to convene on the poor lower east side of Manhattan. Suddenly a gray-coated figure entered the courtroom and approached the bench. The visitor was Fiorello LaGuardia, flamboyant Mayor of New York City, who was known to ride on fire engines, read comics over the radio to the city’s children, and drop in unexpectedly on sites of municipal services. LaGuardia informed the judge that he would be taking over the bench for the evening, and the judge went home.
The first case of the evening was that of an elderly woman accused of stealing a loaf of bread from a bakery. In her defense, the woman explained that she needed to feed her hungry grandchildren. The baker, outraged at the theft, demanded justice.
LaGuardia pounded his gavel and proclaimed, “I have no choice but to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.” With that, the mayor threw ten dollars into his hat and passed the hat around the courtroom. “I hereby fine everyone present 50 cents each for living in a city where a grandmother has to steal a loaf of bread to feed her grandchildren.” When the hat was returned, the woman paid her fine and took home an additional $47.50.
Old systems and paradigms have to break down before they can be replaced. Breakdown is the precursor of breakthrough. The darkest time is just before the dawn. We can each contribute to accelerating this transformation by choosing grace over karma; to give mercy and to receive it. Letting yourself be lovable and loved is as important as giving love to others. Every day we have many opportunities to recognize and deliver grace. As we do, we fulfill our purpose and destiny as the offspring of God.