Most of the members of my family are keen on ballet and we are always impressed by the gracefulness of the ballerinas in particular. The news that the Royal Opera House is about to put some ballets and operas on their YouTube channel during this period of lock-down is not only welcome news, but prompted me to think about what we might mean by the word ‘graceful’.
Tomorrow is the day when the Church traditionally thinks about the graceful Lady Mary – the one to whom the angel announced that she was full of grace – and we will be putting up a Service to celebrate the feast day of the Annunciation on our website http://www.ststephenscanterbury.net which I hope you might visit.
What, then, does it mean to be graceful or full of grace? When we think of ballet dancers, we might think of the elegance with which the dancers move – the smooth, effortless and expressive way in which they appear to control their movements. Grace, in this sense, is movement with feeling. Although it is being highly controlled, and physically demanding, it is made to look like it is not contrived or forced, but simply natural and flowing. Of a graceful performance we could say that the energy flows and seems to flow naturally and without effort, expressing feeling and emotion.
Another way of thinking about this gracefulness is to think of those qualities the Christian faith has traditionally associated with Mary – kindness, gentleness, receptivity and attentiveness. A graceful person is one who is courteous and kind to others, and who listens and receives in good grace – effortlessly and without contrivance. Some people are naturally kind, good, gentle and receptive, and it is these qualities which faith usually ascribes to Mary. She received the gift of grace from God, the grace of being a channel of his love and self-communication, and so was addressed as one ‘full of grace’.
Mary, the graceful Lady, is a model of what it means to live a graceful life and, in these difficult days, we need more people to be living lives that are graceful, channeling the love, peace and joy of God. As I leave this traditional prayer of the Church with you, perhaps you could think about how all our lives could become more graceful.
The Ave Maria
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus; Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.