Grace & Gratituity - The Josephine Porter Institute

Grace & Gratituity

There's a philosophical joke that goes like this:

Q: "Why is there universe here?"
A: "Well, where else would it be?"

Cue laugh track.

But seriously, folks. There's something to this joke. Why is the universe at all? Because existence is fundamentally unnecessary. But let's take that idea of being unnecessary. If it is not a total necessity that the world exist, then it is a free and uncompelled reality. And if the starting point of the world is freedom, then so, too, are you within your particular limits. You are reading this blog. You don't have to. You could go work in the garden or take a nap. Admittedly, your freedom isn't absolute: you can't become a giant Space Baby and transcend space and time and travel the cosmos as a free agent -- or can you? (If so, hit me up) 

As the philosopher Wittgenstein -- whose name I keep mispelling as "Wittgensteiner" -- said, "Feeling the world as a limited whole—it is this that is the mystical. It is not how things are in the world that is the mystical, but that it exists." The sheer fact that the universe exists as a limited (albeit very large) whole is mystical. The sheer that-it-exists is mystical, the surprising hereness of the cosmos is mystical, not the various experiences within it. 

So there you have it. If the universe is unnecessary, then it is free. And if it is free, it is gratuitous because it is more than needs to be by necessity. When a friend gives you more than you deserves, the friend is being gratuitous. The influential (though sometimes questionable) philosopher Heidegger spoke about this gift-like quality when he hovers on the German phrase es gibt, meaning the world appears as already given. Does he draw the correct conclusion from this? Perhaps not, but perhaps we can.

If existence is characterized as a gift (es gibt), then what is the proper response to the essentially gratuitous quality of any true gift (in Greek, charis"grace") is not trying to "buy" it or somehow merit the gift, but a return-gift (as Lewis Hyde describes in The Gift) of gratitude or, perhaps more fundamentally, graciousness

Biodynamics embodies a return-gift to the Earth, without which we cannot survive. The Earth will undoubtedly persist in its own way if we were not here, but what happens if we undermine our own conditions for survival here? The Earth asks so little -- merely a gesture of thanks such as the biodynamic preparations. The Earth needs so little. As Meister Eckhart said, if the only prayer we ever made was "Thank you" that would be enough. 

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