In the Christian tradition, grace is something that is given and received. If justice is getting what we deserve, and mercy is not getting the punishment deserved, then grace is an undeserved reward–like forgiveness, love, etc. The Christian god gives grace in the form of forgiveness and sanctification and Christians give grace in the form of reverence and worship (depending on the denomination, this may or may not be a tit for tat relationship). I was raised in a tradition that taught that God’s grace was supposed to flow downhill (something I think a lot of Christians have lost sight of, unfortunately)–that divine favor is given by virtue of divine love, and that there is an implicit responsibility to share that favor with others, regardless of one’s bias as to their worthiness.
But divine grace is not unique to Christianity. One might wonder, on a Pagan blog, why I would lead with a discussion of a Christian perspective–quite simply because many (I would even venture most) people have been exposed to the Christian context of the term. Grace in and of itself is a multi-faceted word and an equally multifaceted idea. It can mean everything from “to thank” to “to bestow favor” to esteem, good will, refinement, elegance or virtue. As a Pagan, I embrace the idea of grace with some tweaking of the Christian perspective.
Were I a traditional sort of polytheist, I might reject the idea of grace (I have had conversation with people that take this position) on the basis that the gods do not interact with humanity in a way that dispenses undeserved rewards (I can certainly agree with the idea that the gods do not hand out divine salvation). Or, I might accept the idea of grace in a manner similar to that of a Christian (and I have had conversation with people that take this position as well)–the gods do gift us (well, more specifically their followers) with things we do not deserve (fortune, good fortune, etc). And, for both of these groups, we humans certainly give grace to our respective gods in the form of worship, reverence, and offerings.
But…I’m not a traditional sort of polytheist (one might argue I’m no kind of polytheist at all, though that seems to ebb and flow like the tide, and will surely be discussed again and again as my understanding of deity is constantly evolving), so it should come as no surprise that my idea of grace is a bit non-traditional. We live in a state of grace. That grace is bestowed upon us by virtue of the gods. We are given undeserved gifts. Incredibly undeserved gifts–water, earth, air, the sun, the moon, the rock, the tree, the sea gull, the dolphin, the bear, the bee, one another. We do nothing to deserve these things–they are a gift (as is our very existence) of Nature.
And if grace is both given and received, we need to start doing a better job at giving some. Reverence is not enough. Worship is not enough. Sacrifice is a good start, but still not enough. I believe (to borrow some Sophocles) that if the gods help them that help themselves, then we have a duty to help those that cannot help themselves. We who have been given the gift of (relatively) good health and (relatively) good fortune, can start by being the physical hands of the gods in doing the physical work that they cannot in this world. In the context of a bioregional theology, that means doing the work of Rock and Tree and Ocean and Mankind for the rocks and the trees and the ocean and one another.
*Note–I once wrote a post about what Pagans could learn from Christians…some of these ideas and words are taken from that post*