Advent 8 – 9
What are your boundaries? Quick answer is all I’m asking for here so don’t over think the question. How far can you really go? One quick answer which is not incorrect would be to say “I can go as far as gravity will allow.” After all, if we were to jump off a chair, we would go downward because of…gravity. Gravity is one of the boundaries placed upon us.
Grace is a concept that many believe to be only religious. After all, the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity believe that grace is something bestowed by the Creator to believers. It manifests as forgiveness, kindness, and perhaps miracles. Many different spiritualities also refer to grace. Most cultures have some type of a belief system that involves grace, whether it be towards one another or towards that which they feel is responsible for creation.
In the world of space and weather, GRACE is something different. GRACE is an acronym for Global Recovery and Climate Experiment and involves two satellites which orbit the earth mapping its mass. If you live in an area recently affected by drought or near a coast line that seems to be receding, GRACE has been a part of your weather forecast and reality. It is intensely connected to gravity.
Gravity is determined by mass. By measuring gravity anomalies, GRACE has illustrated how mass is distributed around the planet and how it varies over time. Data from the GRACE satellites is an important tool for studying Earth’s ocean, geology, and climate. GRACE is a collaborative endeavor involving the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas, Austin; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA; the German Space Agency and Germany’s National Research Center for Geosciences, Potsdam. GRACE is over one thousand times more accurate than previous data gathering means and also help tracks the distribution of water on our planet.
If you remember from the first post in this Advent series, I mentioned we would be discussing the concept of grace from four different perspectives – Classical, Empirical, Subjective, and Axiomatic. There are four weeks in Advent and each week, I wrote, we would approach the concept of grace from one of these perspectives. This week is time to take an “empirical” approach to grace. It is much the same idea that GRACE uses.
The word empirical refers to knowledge that is based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic. GRACE does that with eye-in-the-sky observations of the planet’s mass and changing topography. Earlier ways to determine such knowledge was limited because of man’s boundaries, his inability to gage personally what was happening in two places at once. After all, to be human means to have boundaries, no be imperfect.
If you wanted to find out who was serving the best chocolate chip cookies, you would need to taste all the possible cookies vying for such a title. Empirical is very similar to the word “empire” but it actually comes from a completely different origin. Empirical is from the Greek “empeirikos”, meaning experienced. It was originally used in medicine for doctors making choices based on observation and experiment rather than theoretical ideas. It’s now used for any kind of knowledge that comes from experience.
One could weigh the ingredients of various recipes of chocolate chip cookies, but until you taste each different recipe and the cookie it makes, you’ll lack empirical knowledge of exactly which chocolate chip cookie is really the best. Even then, the results would be subjective because not everyone likes the same thing. We may all have taste buds that are biologically similar but we interpret and decide what really tastes best individually.
I started this post by saying that one of the limits of being human is gravity. I know posit this question to you: Does grace have limits and are we the one thing that can limit it? Are we, in fact, the gravity of grace?
Gravity cannot be seen or smelled or touched and yet, it’s there. In fact it’s everywhere. We are familiar with gravity because we live with its effects every day. We know that when we drop an object, it falls to the floor, and we know gravity is the reason. While the force of gravity is weak compared with other forces in nature, such as electricity and magnetism, its effects are the most far-reaching and dramatic. Gravity controls everything from the motion of the ocean tides to the expansion of the entire universe.
What wonderful things can grace accomplish if we just use it as much as we use gravity? If we were to extend kindness and beauty in all our movements and interpersonal communication with one another, what changes would we be able to effect and witness in our environment, our world, and most importantly, in each other?
Gravity is, according to NASA, “an invisible force that pulls two masses together. When we speak of mass, we’re talking about the amount of matter in a substance. Density is a measure of how much mass is concentrated in a given space. Sir Isaac Newton discovered that as an object’s mass increases, the gravitational attraction of that object increases. For example, a container filled with a more dense material like granite rock has more mass and thus more gravitational attraction than that same container filled with water. The Earth’s Moon has considerably less mass than the Earth itself. Not only is the Moon smaller than the Earth, but it is only about 60 percent as dense as Earth. Thus, the gravitational attraction on the Moon is much less than it is here on Earth, and a person weighs less on the Moon. This weaker gravity is why we have the famous images of the Apollo astronauts taking “one giant leap for mankind” on the Moon’s surface.”
If we consider grace is the same terms, it almost becomes an “eye for an eye”. You pass someone on the street and they smile a brief greeting to you. If grace were like gravity, then you would smile back because the grace extended in that brief smile would draw you into returning it. Many people overlook the importance of a smile, especially extended to another. In Islam a smile is recognition of that person’s worth as a human being. Sadly to many people, a smile is a commodity they feel they haven’t the time to extend to another.
This post is long and so has two days but really it says pretty much what the entire twenty-eight days will encompass. Much like gravity is everywhere, we need to make grace everywhere and extend it to all people. And yes, that means to people who might look different than you or smell funny or wear different clothing or tattoos or many earrings. It means treating the homeless person as well as you treat your best friend because really, just as gravity affects all, so should grace.
In science, the empirical view of probability is the one that is used in most statistical inference procedures. These are called frequentist statistics. The frequentist view is what gives credibility to standard estimates based on sampling. For example, if we choose a large enough random sample from a population (for example, if we randomly choose a sample of 1000 students from the population of all 50,000 students enrolled in a university), then the average of some measurement (for example, college expenses) for the sample is a reasonable estimate of the average for the population.
I have never seen any statistics for extending grace to others but I know from a personal standpoint and stories read that it can change lives. It costs nothing except a moment of your time and minimal effort and yet, the results can be life-changing. Advent is often called the period of darkness but grace can be a light that illuminates all of humanity. Unlike the empirical perspective of probabilities, extending grace to another does not require some in-depth thought exercise. It really can be limitless and effortless and as easy as a brief smile.
C.S. Lewis once said “The present is the only time in which any duty may be done or grace received.” Empirical data is that which is observed and not limited to a particular theory or knowledge. You can be gracious to someone without knowing them or believing as they do. Like an old show company advertisement used to encourage….”just do it!” Today not only extend grace but note how often you receive it from others. Become your own observing satellite in your life and see how grace affects those in your own orbit. After all, the opportunities are limitless.