Monday, October 23rd 2017

How life works: Karma and Grace

Negative karma happens when we try to store up life’s riches for our own use. Positive grace takes place when lessons happen that an Intelligence wants us to know

BY DAVID RICKEY — Ever since I was kid, I’ve had an insatiable need to understand how things work. I used to take my toys apart to try and figure out what made them go. I even took my father’s pocket watch apart . . . which had the extended benefit of learning how to fix things. I learned, for example, that it was better to go slowly and not panic. Not easy, when the goal was getting it back together again before my father got home.

As my toys got more complicated, I took them apart less, and instead just experimented and observed. But still tried to make sense of what I saw. This curiosity continued through the study of Philosophy, Theology and Psychology. “How does Life work?,” is still my underlying question.

Two words emerge as ways for me to understand this great mystery: Karma and Grace. At a somewhat simple level, Karma means “actions have consequences.”

What you sow is what you reap.

In Eastern thought, it means what you are experiencing now is the result of past actions, perhaps even actions in a previous incarnation. And, your actions now will determine what you experience in the future.

A great Eastern sage once said:

If you want to know your past, look at your present condition. If you want to know your future, look at your present actions.

Often, this amounts to framing Karma as a quotient of punishment.

I’d like to add a layer to that. It’s not just about cause and effect in a mechanistic sense; rather, I sense a kind of purpose in the progression of events, that the consequences of my past actions are intended to teach me a better way.

When I experience my life playing out the “negative” consequences of my choices, I try to look for the teaching that is there, not just so I can avoid punishment in the future, but so that I can live with a better awareness of “how things work.”

This brings in the second word, “Grace.” To me, Grace is not just God’s love and care for me. Grace is also that force which moves me along, beyond cause and effect, to accomplish a deeper purpose. It’s the unexpected and un-caused “surprises” that show up when needed.

It once came to me that grace is GRACE: Gifts Received And Channeled Elsewhere.

The Grace I have experienced in my life hasn’t been for me (although it has often been wonderfully beneficial). Rather, Grace has been given to me so that I may transmit or transact something important that affects the world beyond me.

A real-life exhibit: in 1996 I had a motorcycle accident in Australia, landing me in the hospital, in traction, for several weeks. The healing was remarkably fast. At the same time, a number of people came through my life that seemed to need something I had to offer: counseling, understanding, witnessing-presence.

The most amazing part is that in the midst of recovery I ended up having to move back home to New York state to live with my Mom  — only to discover that she was dying.

I got to spend the last seven months of her life with her. I got to reconcile, actually to fall in love, with her again.

Karma may have been playing itself out in the accident in the first place, but Grace and Karma together played out together in the gifts coming to — and through me — to those around me.

I believe that there is an Intelligence in the way things are. Some call this God, and that works well enough as a label for this mystery.

What I sense is that this Intelligence is constantly seeking to emerge into our awareness, and it “uses” experience to teach us the lessons we need to understand more fully about how life works. The purpose is only secondarily that life will work better for us.

It doesn’t intend “prosperity” or “riches,” so much as it intends abundance of life — what Jesus called the “Fullness of Life”. Not just for us but through us to the world. Like a deep lake, we live because the water of life flows through us. Negative Karma happens when we try to store up life’s riches for our own use. The experiences of our life are the lessons, partly in response to Karma and partly the ever-flowing Grace. Both are moving toward the same end: WISDOM.

Living in the realm of Karma and Grace means paying deep attention to my choices and my experiences, always being conscious of its golden rule: “Actions have consequences.”

At the same time it means being open to  — or, more deeply  — trusting in Grace. Saint Paul said: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling . . . [pay attention to Karma] knowing that God is at work in you [trust in Grace].”

This balance of personal responsibility and innocent trust adds both a richness and a delight to the journey of life. The sublime punchline: I frequently find myself somewhere between laughter and WOW.

David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.

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3 Comments on “How life works: Karma and Grace”

  1. David,

    Thank you so much for your insight and for the sharing of your life experiences both with karma and grace. I try very hard to look for the "why" in what is happening around me and hope that it is something I'll learn with, while it is happening. I find, more often than not, that the learning comes in that hindsight when I see how carefully things, people, places, events were placed into what I was being shown...and I marvel at those intricacies. The struggle in this living, for me, are the times when nothing is apparent, the "waiting room" times of my life... and then I read what you just wrote and wonder what I'm in the midst of learning.

    Bless you... I needed this and drank deeply from it...

    P.S. I kept trying to post this last night but hit a glitch so I emailed it to myself, and cut and pasted it in here this afternoon... sorry to be late on the reply.

  2. I agree. Most of my faith in Karma and Grace has come from looking back. Now when I am in a situation that looks desparate or "Bad", I remember the string of situations that also felt that way and turned into amazing journeys, and that gives me the courage to move forward. In fact, as an example, when I was lying on the road after the car ran over me, I said to myself: Pay Attention. Something's going on in this. I had no idea where it was taking me but I knew it was important.


  3. [...] life. Wallowing in our sinfulness accomplishes little. Trying to get God to change contradicts the divine energy seeking to change us. Lent therefore needs to be a time inner shifting, if not to a new heart then to our true heart. [...]

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