Vision, Policy & Practice Adviser, M.P.Aff.
ProSocial Democracy, Engaged Education and Quality of Work Life
1. My Sister’s Double Grace of Love and Artistry
Double grace is the life, light, heart and soul of my personal testimony of two everlasting gospels, my unified theology of liberation and utopia, my lifelong innermost and outermost inspiration and fascination always flooding into me, both sublime sanctuary and awful siren. My long struggle and journey of agony and ecstasy is now that grace is of our eternal God and illimitable Humanity as two distinctive cosmic life forces: there are two, not one fundamental and ultimate foundations, a twofold and doubling active favoring and welcome for our full participation in the sheer goodness, love, vitality, creativity and authoring. This is the triumphal fact of finite humans who come alive in the liminal sense of the infinite, the two-way threshold touch of divine and humane life.
Double grace as a complex theological concept and Biblical hermeneutic and informed and supported by a wide panoply of faiths, humanities and disciplines can wait for later. It is best understood when stated simply, and for this I find it most near, clear and dear to me when in the double grace of my beautiful sister, Claudia Castellon. This Chinese watercolor of hers on rice paper is perfect double grace imagery for it illuminates the double grace in her own inner being and radiating outwardly: like the Confucian ethics and aesthetic of Chinese watercolor, her double grace is of eternal humanist qualities and “soul-stirring, long-lasting” analogies, beauty, an intimate kinship with nature and all living creatures, each noble, meaningful and refreshing to our spirit, as the Chinese artist sees in the interiors of the trees, mountains, bamboo, animals.
Among the typical themes of traditional Chinese art there is no place for war, violence, the nude, death, or martyrdom. Nor is inanimate matter ever painted for art’s sake: the very rocks and streams are felt to be alive, visible manifestations of the invisible forces of the universe.
My sister herself is quite twofold, for example, an extraordinary nurse of lifetime empathy and love and a creative artist filling the world with beauty. Here she is painting, sharing and bringing all of her love and wisdom to life as in these corresponding two portraitures of grace and love, order, proportion, creativity and freedom who are themselves painting our world as we experience them. The branching tree generous and welcoming as our eternal God and the song bird magnificent and free as our illimitable Humanity: Each is wholly other in relationship to the unique selfhood of each equal peer, an impossibility only true with God and poets, and public theology. Each is a distinctive infinite “being in and of itself,” beyond all limits of the other, and yet lovingly, graciously making the world as beautiful as possible, individually and both together, and interwoven in one another.
My sister is painting their twofold beauty and her own: the artistry of sister, brush, paints and linen, branching tree and song bird is a Renaissance Dialogo, a transfiguring two-way eucharist of all members as participatory whole composers. Gradually, then suddenly, the imagery is gone and we are in the double grace of giving and receiving all that is good, true and beautiful on both sides of this qualitative threshold. “We Are” two partners who are loving in completing one another but perhaps even more so by their own discovery and making of worlds of their own and then astonishing each other, not only by this sacred completing union as if one but by doubling each other’s renaissance worlds, our life together an endless shared germinal of loving partners who are never more abundantly giving and receiving than when in this double grace enchantment. And now let me share another double grace lyric key of my sister. As a neonatal nurse in Children’s Hospital Intensive Care Unity where all babies are in incubators with tubes and monitors attached, she painted portraits of mothers, in this awful isolation and waiting, now adoringly with their babies intimately, warmly in their arms, completely free of incubators and any evidence of this traumatizing experience. The first grace is already in the giving and receiving of all these mothers, fathers and families and Claudia, all nurses, doctors and everyone loving, caring and expertly helping: the face of God in each and every person taking pleasure in seeing a child improve and come to full health. But then this second experience of grace! How wondrous this shared lovingkindness! A realized utopia of my sister’s making of what is “not here,” not expected and so long forgotten, a fellow humane being bringing the whole world alive for another, her baby in her arms, warm, smiling and healthy.
The first is the grace that inspires the world of history for saving, healing and liberation like what happens in this and every place like it: the abundant life with Jesus the perfect healer and all others of the same inspiration. And simultaneously the second is the world of utopia for enchanting and celebrating the whole world of social flourishing, of “no more tears” (Revelation 21: 4) as true of “our new heaven and new earth,” our life revealed in the everlasting final Christ, where there is no trace of any need for liberation, the life my sister brings to me, all her patients and others in double grace. These frightened mothers and families, many in the first oppression of the world’s cruel hardness, indifference, impoverishing, now in the entirety of the twofold blessedness of life when swept away, at peace, if only a moment it is of its own replenishing time, a sweetest sanctuary: a nurse who deeply cares and loves with lifelong heightened empathy and then this transcendent artist who makes all worries and indignities go away.
2. Bold Humility of Double Grace as our Eternal God and Illimitable Humanity Together Again!
In the somewhat bold humility of public theology, I proclaim all individual faiths and sciences, theologies and ideologies, whether spiritual, ecclesial, sacred or secular, are the same literary trope, synecdoche or dialectic, a messianic or dynamic reality of the same affirming sense of being a part of a greater whole, and this whole within every part.
Each is rightly then a participatory finite partner with the infinite cosmic whole, the sacred mystery, eternal, transcendent, immanent and kairos: our eternal God, illimitable Humanity, the creatio ex nihilo, unconditioned prime mover, creator as dynamic creativity, ground of being, objective reality, the sheer goodness, vitality and energy of our cosmos. Let me call this for now “X” in the spirit of Einstein. Grace is here defined as inspired by this one “X” and variously “divine favor,” joy of being or everlasting life in this impossible but palpable relationship of finite humane beings with the “eternal germinal infinitude.” Grace invites our participation in proliferating divinehumane goods like truth, beauty, love, justice, peace and virtue, and sacramental rituals, mysteries and two-way liminal thresholds like prehistoric cave paintings 40 tya, and those of Plato’s Republic and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia; and increasingly at places like M.I.T. all augmented educational technologies like Apple Surface Pro are like these prehistoric cave paintings where two opposing worlds suddenly pour into one another, the screen is gone, all enchanting, enriching and liberating one another.
This proclamation is quite conventional but here is the beginning of my radical point of departure: every individual person and public living body is also swept up in this synecdoche or dialectic as an affirming momentum of dynamic reality becoming all that is promised in the beginning as it moves closer to its predestined triumphal end: this sense of the transcendent greater whole resonates within every interwoven part of us, our imagination, mind, soul, body, heart, all that we are past, present and future. Our autonomic physiological living systems are similarly in optimal well-being when in reciprocal harmony with our affirming whole innermost being and outermost reality. And since we are moral, social, political, spiritual, linguistic and cultural humane beings, this inspired grace thoroughly saturates and grows our extended sphere of social relationships, our life together, our society of prominent and “high” sovereign authority and obscure and “low” native genius, our living “corporate” body public, our “total modern world.” And conversely, we are determined and influenced by these dynamics from without and strangely also from within in the same way.
But now, dear readers, my proclamation is that in both cases above, whether sacred mystery or our innate human nature, the necessary tragic premise of a gap between part and triumphal whole that needs and desires one grace-inspired “X” is simultaneously to descend into Dante’s hellish Inferno and fear, distrust, condemn and exclude all others as “non-X” or nothingness or the Beast. The very source of our own ultimate peace, resting and warming of our hearts, feeling God’s pleasure or cosmic balance and goodness compels us to imagine, see, judge, hate and stigmatize others as threatening, negating, chaos, conflicting and devastating this ultimate peace. This is the awful truth of the “theodicy of the harm that the good do.” When we encounter polarizing oppositions and even the slightest differences in other individuals, communities, ideologies and peoples, especially those that seem eternal or too horribly recurring, we intensify and contest them as the very opposite of all that we know and believe is good, moral, rational, beautiful, order, purposeful. But this is of our own making of the world that is then in an infinite self-learning loop making us in the same way. As if this is bred in our bone, blood and tissue, we cleave ourselves into two independent and mutually-exclusive divides: where whatever side is most affirming, determining and inspired by grace to us immediately evokes a kind of deep souled spiritual, humane or otherwise substantive warfare with the other apostate opposing side.
In this way, the irony and tragedy of our affirming dialectic and triumphal grace as inspired of one X is that we are in and of the world held together by God while engaging in the hegemonic dehumanizing, oppressive, diseased modern disorders that are the ruination of humanity, creation and all possible inspiring future and whole worlds come alive in social flourishing. Our right paths of one way, life and truth in, with and of God do liberate, justify, beatify and sanctify us as individual personhoods and beloved communities. But they are entangled of good and evil and become serviceable villains of the very Beast in Christian eschatology, poetry and shorthand for all engulfing tyrannies, for they drive us to tear each other and ourselves into pieces, denying our shared humanity and promise of ushering in “new heavens and a good earth.”
I prefer a different way of grace, a different X, and thank God, I discovered so does our eternal God who is not only an “X” or great “I Am,” but also a “Y,” let’s call this illimitable Humanity: “We Are” instead of the unified epic grandeur of both our eternal God and illimitable Humanity. Each is essential in composing the everlasting twofold flourishing that is our thundering resonating cosmos within and without us. If we find ourselves only in one inspired grace of God, then quickly seek, find and be in the inspired grace of Humanity. Why? Read my “Writer’s Notebooks” for this and many other topics related to double grace.
Double Grace is thus: my theological concept and interpretive dialogic framework, my hermeneutic, for supporting, rejoicing that “We Are” extraordinary inspired peoples divided for and not against ourselves, two independent and opposing worlds, realities and whole ways, mysteries and truths of being humane and divine. I will show how this works and makes profound radical, revolutionary, moral and common sense; in fact, divine and humane sense for doubling our capacity as a democratic expansively inclusive people, as a world citizenry, for giving what the world needs most: not wholly vital individuals privileging the few but whole worlds come alive! All are in a Texas Two-Step in this double grace pattern, one of liberation in history, one of social flourishing in utopia: each desiring and dependent upon the other as a sacred union to lead and follow, to help and support, each independent and wholly other to enrich, enchant and fulfill and surpass, to challenge, intrigue and astonish.
3. Eternal God Ꝏ illimitable Humanity is Two-Way Double Grace
It may be helpful imagery to place a mobius strip (infinity symbol) in between these two impossible opposites but palpable eucharistic, communing living truths, worlds and realities. This denotes their embrace of one another as an “eternal germinal infinitude” of all active, vital and good, energizing, creative and authoring forces: each as two distinctive life-affirming movements that exemplify, infuse and sustain in the same relational mutually-enriching, bewildering and often terrifying way, life and truth of all finite humans made in their image and likenesses, all creatures, great and small. These mobius symbols can by analogy be placed within any other pairing of opposites you choose, however defined, macro or micro, to enrich a personal whole way of life, love or bridge deep divides and cross deeply entrenched polarizing oppositions.
Double grace works the same for all encounters, predicaments and crises, whether writ large and obvious like two opposing political cultural peoples or body publics, a war of all against all, two ideologies or worldviews violently driving peoples against one another, or writ small and imperceptible of differences between persons, groups or communities. These symbols are not mere abstract signifiers but evoke the real transfiguring double grace and “jolly relativity” (i.e., Mikhail Bakhtin) that replenishes, enriches, fulfills and surpasses each side of all they need and desire, all they now open themselves in divinehumane trust, mutually and intimately giving and receiving with one another, an enjoying of spiritual fruits impossible but for this double grace.
Imagine enjoying this impressionist painting in the grace-inspired world of history: we look at it with all the pleasures of our mind, imagination, heart, body and soul as in a highly educated, trained and analytical “mind-centered” way of appreciating all this art is signifying: the artist, his life, passions, inspiration, his failures and struggles, the dominant and avant garde schools, context, differing influences and needs and desires, the medium, the technique, the brushstrokes, use of color and light, and so on, until we are quite full of all the pleasure this way of being, seeing, interpreting and appreciating the painting has run its course.
And then we come again and not just look at this painting with new eyes but a whole new humanity of being, seeing, feeling and loving, tapping into reservoirs of life, inspiration and enchantment that are forever before and after, beyond and impossibly within but hidden and inaccessible to the first way of grace in the historical world. Now we come in “jolly relativity” and this painting is suddenly a two-way threshold of all that is of our eternal God and illimitable humanity running riotously to each other through and across each side, and we simply shimmering, luminous, in full surrender to all this poetry, light, color, God, Humanity, imagery, ourselves, our memories, our oceanic creativity.
The whole world comes alive as we exalt, weep, contemplate, rejoice, lose ourselves into becoming more than we ever imagined we could be before taking the time to pause, to open ourselves to this second simultaneous powerful overflow of utopian, romantic, universal, forgotten, impossible inspirations, feelings and experiences. We delight in the first but the pleasure of the second is sheer agony and ecstasy unbearable uncontainable! As if the very artist in the moment, the struggle, the extraordinary sense of being unique and transcendent at once, the sacred mystery, life sacramental, of making the world more beautiful for himself and for others with this good work. But far more than this is the great artistry of being a beautiful world, life, love and showing, guiding and helping others to do the same. Following with you intimately in the world of history and being in your unique and transcendent great artistry but impossibly, ecstatically in your own unique way, your secret sharing of the same sacred mysteries.
4. Personal Testimony of Universal Human Experience
I believe my spiritual life began as an infant in the midst of what I write about as “double oppression” that is felt by far too many in our world and throughout history and is what drives my own heightened sense of missio dei, justice and empathy: this is the trauma first of the world’s violence in all its beastlike myriad forms and then that of its insufficient and often more cruel response to help and “be for” those who are “broken, poor, disabled or otherwise suffering.” My first two years were the worst, my life seriously at risk several times, helpless in the grip of others’ sudden rages, and during my first five years in a long series of temporary homes of my extended family, always trying to run away, inconsolable in my crying, incurring severe to “moral” beatings: the irony of being kept in a dark closet for a year or so before age two by the family most loving but fearful my crying could violate their apartment’s lease.
Thus, I have always been twofold in a peculiar way and found being in two opposing worlds not a psychological phenomenon but the double grace of being in two inspired worlds, each full of their own beauty and pain: one with our eternal God, the other with our illimitable Humanity, as described in my construct below for signifying double grace. But while my testimony of double grace begins in my infancy, it is of a universal human experience though it has been impossible to know or even imagine until now.
There are two primary reasons for this impossibility and corresponding sense of our age as an epochal revolutionary moment. The first is that we lack the imagination, mind, capacity, understanding and tools to interpret it and moreover a certain affirming dialectic and “totalizing” spirit of our modern world excludes these from developing; the second is that since the late 1800s, emerging across a wide panoply of faiths, sciences, humanities and arts and as traced in a longer evolutionary and biological arc of anthropology, archaeology, history and literature, are new insights, theories and bodies of research, knowledge that correspond with my essential dialogical framework, which is reflected in all my Key Ideas and Images and here in double grace, which draws upon my own distinctive Christian faith and inspiration. It like all the rest and all I write is of a deep welcome and ecumenical and in the spirit of expansively inclusive social flourishing.
Our “total modern world” is thus in metamorphosis and becoming two, each inspired as if by its own unconditioned creator of its own distinctive sheer goodness, the “unique and sacred mystery of divine favor” that is grace. I will write more of my personal story but for now let me simply say it exemplifies and confirms new approaches that see exceptional and gifted individuals of any age as in a particular kind of existential depression. Like you and certainly every beloved and beautifully made child, I was exceptional as an infant in my unique way and my life then one of existential crises, anxiety and depression. With the understanding of existentialism as both a practice of faith and philosophy of life (e.g., Soren Kierkegaard, Jean Paul Sartre, Fyodor Dostoyevsky), existentialism is being in and seeing the world as darkly as it warrants and then suddenly breaking through to the stunning radiance and affirming whole well-being of God.
In this way, I first experienced grace as sheer joy of being in the everlasting liminal transfiguring communion with our eternal God: this outpouring of all that is good, beautiful, true and salvific washing and filling me liberally liberating and overcoming all this horrible tyranny of the world’s dehumanizing violence. But then this grace was neither sufficient to me or my God, for it is not enough for our restless hearts to find warmth, pleasure and peace in God but we are sent to do the same with all the differing kinds of illimitable humanity. God loves us and gives us deep nourishing peace and needs, desires, weeps and exalts for each and every extraordinary personhood and beloved community, every friend, family, member, lover, neighbor, stranger and enemy.
And thus, my testimony is that the universal human condition is a “double existentialism” where the first is our suffering of “non-being” in the cruelty, poverty, insignificance and isolation that is the death of our world and that God’s grace overcomes and washes away in our eternal joyous and intimate embrace. The second is of our own making of the world that makes us in the furnace and witness of unbearable agony and captivity: alienation, exploitation, estrangement and engulfing in the dehumanizing, impoverishing, traumatizing disorders, diseases and other historical sins. This is in fact a second grace that our eternal God also needs, desires, weep and exalts in its outpouring in the love of illimitable humanity. In this way, grace is twofold and comes flooding in from all directions and differing ways, loves, lives, truths and mysteries; and just when you think your faith and science, as inspired by grace and love, is sufficient, then look again to our eternal God or illimitable Humanity, the one you prefer, and then don’t merely look, but be in the other one.
For the double grace sacred mystery and palpable truth is that ours is a life together in and of the unified epic grandeur of our living interwoven God, cosmos, creation and humanity, a whole world come alive in liberation and flourishing in every divinehumane and gracelove sense of these words: and I invite you to share with me how this can be most gloriously lived as two distinctive orchestral movements, one of our eternal God and one of illimitable Humanity, a mutual composing of fierce energizing dramaturgy and thundering affirming creativity and love to sweep all humane beings up into each and to share in this same way of composing our social life and public worlds together: political, economic, cultural, communications, linguistic, natural, our eternal God, illimitable Humanity, germinal good earth.
But this is insufficient of the grace I need and desire. I am thus in the other inspired world in the midst of humanity capable of profound beauty and love, agonies and ecstasies, exhilarating and terrifying: face to face and looking across the world, completely in and of it, sometimes unable to breath, the suffering is far more real, overwhelming, horrible and unspeakable. But then, as is the way with existentialism, the joys too become heighted and more intense, not as felt in the other world in communion with God, so comfortable, practiced and assured: they are now passionate, incandescent, uncontainable ecstasies. They usher in great works, new heavens and good earths of creativity, artistry, visions and struggles for justice, liberation and social flourishing.
Thus, I have always been twofold and wholly alive when in resonating concert of two opposing worlds, and born not just a little existentialist but a little theologian, philosopher, anthropologist, historian and poet too: deeply curious about all the world, following and experiencing truths, insights and mysteries, agonies and ecstasies and sufferings and joys wherever they lead, enchanted with all the varieties of beauty and light in the world and a prophetic imagination and heightened sensibility about all the horrors, cruelties and barbarism that is the world we have made that is making us.
O God, thank you, that you gave and I received grace to persevere through the first inhumane engulfing violence and then again to not be captive, defined and disfigured by the second ungodly possessive one. My strongest faith conviction and most affirming testimony and endlessly replenishing vision of our eternal God and illimitable Humanity is the double blessedness of life, this “Double Grace” that is for all “humane beings” (I prefer this Native American term to human—we need all the reminders of our innate and expansively inclusive humane nature!) And yet I find this double grace especially comes to all those who experience, know and reject this double oppression.
Double grace is thus for me a resonating mystery of God in my earliest origins, as inspired in Psalm 139:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me
Were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
I want to share this double grace with you, dear friends, and I trust you already know it too, and so we can share it together, which is of course the way of double grace.