Dr. Kelly Flanagan wrote a beautiful piece recently about what the experience of acceptance, grace, generosity does for us:
This is the brilliance of grace: it welcomes our darkness into the light and does nothing to it, knowing that it doesn’t have to, because darkness thrives on hiddenness, and it’s at the mercy of the light. Light drives out darkness, not the other way around.
When we no longer have to push our darkness back down beneath layers of shame our darkness doesn’t stand a chance.
What about the other side of that equation? What does it mean to be the person providing that acceptance and generosity?
Individually, we have to nurture generosity in ourselves.
I believe the drive to live generously lives in most people. We want to be the gracious host, the good friend, the pocket of grace in a condemning world.
It takes work; even people we love, know, and trust can be brutal, crabby, just plain difficult, never mind extending generosity to the stranger, the person outside our tribe, the one from somewhere else who has nothing to offer us and no relations with us to oblige our indulgence.
Taking care of ourselves, rest, exercise, connecting with people who treat us well and care for us, and taking time daily to be with and experience what moves and inspires us creates a space in ourselves that allows us to live with generosity.
Collectively, we can create pockets of grace too.
There are so many examples of communities and organizations countering the trend towards criminalizing homelessness. It's important to recognize them too. I was struck recently by a story about RainCity Housing, a Vancouver nonprofit, worked with an ad agency to create benches that double as emergency shelter for "rough sleepers", with advertising that provides information on the shelter.
Another law attempting to criminalize homelessness, this one a Los Angeles ban on people sleeping in cars, has been struck down by a federal appeals court on the grounds it would open the door to discriminatory treatment against the poor.
Dr. Flanagan said
I can tell you now, grace isn’t just acceptance of the status quo. Grace contains the status quo—all of our struggle and pain and mess—and embraces us and values us anyway. Grace demands that nothing be changed for love and connection to happen, and that kind of love has power.
The power to accept people where they are, especially when it's outside our cultural comfort zone, is a power we can wield to help them begin again. Amazing stuff.