The 'Second Degree of Grace'

The ‘second degree of grace’

In an essay by Holly Peston, poet and lecturer at the University of Essex in this Summer’s issue of The Poetry Review the author quotes an interesting couple of lines from Simone Weil:

“Creation is composed of the descending movement of gravity, the ascending movement of grace and the descending movement of the second degree of grace.” (page 75 The Poetry Review Volume 109: 2)

Holly Peston, in this extremely interesting article, is relating this to the cadences of poetry, and gives other examples, including that of John Milton, speaking of the descent of the voice and it cultivating and pooling; all of which is fascinating, as when it ‘tilts’ with ‘a plea or a question’. 

The parallels between when poetry is read, and the use of the projected voice in preaching, is not a hard one to make; not to mention that between poetry’s inner cadences and those of theological nuances; these are thought-provoking too.  So, with both thanks for Holly Peston’s essay, and apologies to her for building theologically upon it, and at considerable risk of misinterpreting both women, let me reflect for a moment on Simone Weil’s words.

In an intricate and astonishing world of incredible beauty, Christians believe that God is constantly at work in creating, whilst allowing the formation of the earth to be stewarded by the provenly inept hand of humanity.  As we live at a time when ‘the descending movement of gravity’ may not only spell freedom and release, but also uncontrolled loss, the need to be responding to ‘the ascending movement of grace’, is never more apparent.  In other words, as we accept God’s gift to us of the created order, our individual response to the destruction of the world around us is caught up with our individual sorrow for our human failure.  God’s love is all embracing; our love in response is, or should be, as wide as we can encompass.

But, what of this ‘descending movement of the second degree of grace’.  Here, I respond by reflecting upon the will of Christ to empty himself and offer his life for the sake of fallen humanity.  We may link gravity with the formation of the world, but grace with the reconciling love of the Father, as shown in his Son.  This oscillation of creation and grace, which we in spatial terms recognise in an ascending and descending movement in which we are involved, brings us prayerfully to not only accept our place and responsibility, but to reach out to plead for our inclusion in preserving and gently holding each and every wonder that has been placed in our hands; offering them in love; cherishing them for our children and for generations to come.

John Mann