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Lispector’s Grace

To cut to the chase: I love Clarice Lispector. I love that, in 1967, when asked to write a weekly column on any subject for Brazil’s leading newspaper, she wrote intimately about miracles, sadness, justice and the heart. Actual curtains rustled awake by memory. A childhood fight. Things like this. Lispector expands the subtlest details of experience into revelations with poetic precision, as in her essay on grace, published in Selected Cronicas. It is this particular essay that I want to discuss. Thus, Lispector:

The state of grace to which I refer cannot be used for anything. It would appear to come just to let us know it really exists. When in this state, the tranquil happiness which radiates from people and things is enhanced by a lucidity which can only be described as light because in a state of grace everything is so very, very bright. It is the lucidity of those who are no longer surmising: they simply know. Just that: they know. Do not ask me what they know, for I can only reply in the same childish manner: they simply know.

There’s an interesting correlation between the literary sublime and Lispector’s definition of grace, residing in her suggestion of simply “knowing” what may be impossible to understand or articulate. As with the sublime, a person confronts the unknown in a feeling of a known. A kind of wordless lucidity exists then. It’s as though a transparency of emotions were lifted from the surroundings and placed directly over the center of the body: lung absorption, heart, to breathe it, as in, directly, a merging, of outer world with one’s unlit interior. Paying attention leads to collecting, both of the material world, and to sets of awareness or knowledge of how people, animals and objects are. Patterns emerge. With patterns, meaning can’t help itself. Between loss and love we stuff the cracks with stories of encounters. What comes to us, both materially and through others, causes our senses of self to grow illumined. Our receptivity in turn gifts us with ability to feel as in, anything at all, very deeply. The task of existence maybe is this: we have been given bodies and senses now let them not grow listless.

What’s crucial about the grace state is its relative infrequency—telling a person something without knowing quite why, except for a nagging insistence to give voice to that moment, or turning around to pick up a folded scrap of paper, on which, as it turns out, nothing of seeming consequence is written, is work toward future understanding. For, “It is useless to desire: things only come when desired spontaneously.” All the “little” eventually adds up, and offers grace, a rare glimpse.

Which is why these moments can feel so reckless and heady—suddenly one experiences so much power, but without the need or desire to execute that power over anything. Rather, it is the power of simply being, both whole and singular, and also part of the entire, stretched fabric of existence. Light entering what’s entirely woven, hot pin-pricks absorbed directly into the eye before spilling back, and we stand stunned at the windowpane again.

Standing at the windowpane while the humming dissipates may exemplify Lispector’s conclusion ultimately, about the state of grace: “To have known grace is to have experienced something which appears to redeem the human condition while accentuating the strict limitations of that condition.” The strict limitations are at times painful, but they’re necessary. If one can live fully enough to be aware of herself inside the periphery of something vast, perhaps that is the best she can do. The periphery eventually draws toward the center, as one is unexpectedly carried along an invisible spoke for a moment, smacked with a beautiful glimpse of knowing, and returned gently back to her own ground again. It’s knowing what’s possible—a knowing—a possible, that can’t be a constant, lest we allow our senses to dull by expecting too much.