‘Flag” by Jasper Johns, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1954-55. Image via Wikimedia Commons

What does an America reeling from an unrelenting global pandemic, traumatized by a violent assault on our democratic process, devastated by a tragic wave of mass shootings and police brutality against people of color, and staggered by a calculated partisan attack on voting rights, LGBTQ dignity, and women’s reproductive health need now?

Grace. Sweet grace.

Grace is a selfless act of giving love and mercy to others, even when we feel they don’t deserve it. Grace derives its power from giving people the love and mercy that others have extended to us throughout our lives.

Grace is paying it backward and forward.

Calling on the transformational power of grace is a simple act. It’s available to everyone. But in the prophetic words of Hamlet, Shakespeare’s tragic hero of vacillation, “The readiness is all.” 

And there’s the rub. Grace is summoned through an act of will. But before receiving grace and extending its healing power to others, we must first make peace with ourselves. Forgiveness and a sincere desire for a fresh start are the signposts on our journey toward reconciliation, both within ourselves and with others.

There’s no question that Americans are stepping into the new year with two years of collective trauma weighing on our hearts. The seismic partisan divide, fueled by a vengeful and embittered former president and his partisan enablers, compounds our distress.

We grieve for a time when civility defined our interactions with our elected representatives and with one another. In the ensuing turmoil, conjured up by countless selfish acts of misplaced rage, lies, and threats of violence, searching for a spark of hope has become a herculean task.

But as hope overcomes despair, grace can free us from the politics of recrimination and retribution. Anyone, regardless of race, gender, or generation, can harness its restorative power. All we must do is ask for it.

That is the spirit of grace giving.

Imagine a national celebration of reconciliation, a day when Americans are called to look deep within our hearts for the humility to accept our mistakes, the resolve to release our grievances, and the fortitude to gaze unflinchingly into the reflection of our shared American experience.

Grace giving represents the first step in America’s journey toward empathy, hope, and healing.

We’ve arrived at this moral crossroads before. Facing a nation ravaged by civil war, President Abraham Lincoln appealed for national unity by calling on his fellow Americans to summon the “better angels of our nature.”  What more meaningful way to honor President Lincoln’s legacy than by reimagining the national holiday commemorating his birthday as a day of giving and receiving grace?

The story of the America experience unfolds day by day. Our individual attitudes and choices chart the course of our collective destiny.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s this: American exceptionalism is an aspiration not an actuality. Human fallibility keeps perfection out of reach. But by calling on and accepting the power of grace, we can become an audacious work in progress, capable of inspiring hope and possibility in our world.

Isn’t that the spirit of American democracy?

A second-generation San Diegan and nonprofit consultant, Molly Bowman-Styles is the President of Windansea Communications.

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