Example #100 Literature and Grace

What if a text were explored using the concept of grace?

Caroline was concerned about the mentality that thought doing the bare minimum was enough. She was also troubled by how often she heard the retort: ‘What’s in it for me?’ Her class were studying Jane Eyre as a text and she decided the she would explore the role of grace as an attribute and action in the novel.

"I decided to change the way I introduced the novel. I started by putting up some definitions of grace. We looked at grace as:

  • Undeserved love, favour, goodness or blessing.
  • Treating or speaking of people better than their behaviour is worthy of.
  • Doing more than is expected and going beyond a contractual view of life that sees living only in terms of rights and doing things for rewards.
  • Receiving something as free gift, unearned.

"I gave the students examples of grace in action and asked them to create their own example starting with ‘Grace is …’

‘Grace is … when someone borrows your bike and cleans it before they return it.’

‘Grace is … when you have offended someone and they are still nice to you.’

"We went on to look at attitudes, actions and events in the book that could be described as ‘grace’, for example Jane’s gracious assessment of Blanche Ingram. We also looked at the character of Grace Poole and how her name and her character create a certain level of dissonance."

What’s going on here?

Caroline saw her English lesson in terms of grace and how it affected attitudes and behaviour.

She engaged her students by focusing on grace as a key idea and expanding their participation through them creating ‘Grace is …’ examples.

Caroline reshaped her practice by framing the lesson with a key concept and by changing the way she introduced the session. She encouraged thinking by introducing an element of dissonance by contrasting the person of Grace Poole with her name.

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Grace is an aspect of love, for it is about giving more love than is deserved, behaving better than expected. Grace is an attitude and action that goes beyond any contractual view of relationships and instead responds with generosity of spirit and behaviour. This reflects God’s grace, for God does not deal in short measures or even a bare minimum of love. God forgives those who do not deserve it and bestows blessings beyond what people could earn. Grace holds out hope for it is unearned, which can help to break negative cycles in relationships.

What difference does it make?

Grace is a much neglected concept that could present students with a way of thinking about characters and events and stimulate them to review their own way of looking at life.

Where could we go from here?

Other key concepts could be used to explore texts; for example, a cycle such as sin and brokenness, redemption, healing and restoration could be used.

Digging deeper

Grace is the free, undeserved love, goodness, help and favour of God. Salvation is by grace (Ephesians 2:8); it is the gift of God, not something that is earned – no one is good enough for that. A champagne bottle being opened is a good image of grace, as is laughter. It is an outpouring of goodness that we did not earn or create. It is God’s measure: full, patted down and running over (Luke 6:38). It creates delight.
Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God. Karl Barth
Grace is living in remembrance that all is gift. Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can a life of grace be lived and people changed.
Once more, never think that you can live to God by your own power or strength; but always look to and rely on him for assistance, yea, for all strength and grace. David Brainerd
The Christian life is joyous grateful living – a very different attitude to just ‘keeping the rules’. Living a life of grace is the opposite of living life doing the bare minimum, or seeing life as a series of contracts where we only do what it is expected in that situation, and no more. Grace produces an attitude of the heart, a state of mind and a way of life.

Explore similar examples:

What if a topic on heroes helped learners to see themselves realistically?
What if a literature class helped students to think about choices?
What if dance expanded pupils' ideas of forgiveness?
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1In the past you were dead because you sinned and fought against God. 2You followed the ways of this world and obeyed the devil. He rules the world, and his spirit has power over everyone who doesn't obey God. 3Once we were also ruled by the selfish desires of our bodies and minds. We had made God angry, and we were going to be punished like everyone else. 4But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God's wonderful kindness is what saves you. 6God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. 7God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. 8You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God's gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. 9It isn't something you have earned, so there is nothing you can boast about. 10God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That's why he sent Christ to make us what we are. United by Christ 11Don't forget that you are Gentiles. In fact, you used to be called uncircumcised by those who take pride in being circumcised. 12At that time you did not know about Christ. You were foreigners to the people of Israel, and you had no part in the promises that God had made to them. You were living in this world without hope and without God, 13and you were far from God. But Christ offered his life's blood as a sacrifice and brought you near God. 14Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body 15to destroy the Law of Moses with all its rules and commands. He even brought Jews and Gentiles together as though we were only one person, when he united us in peace. 16On the cross Christ did away with our hatred for each other. He also made peace between us and God by uniting Jews and Gentiles in one body. 17Christ came and preached peace to you Gentiles, who were far from God, and peace to us Jews, who were near God. 18And because of Christ, all of us can come to the Father by the same Spirit. 19You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. 20You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. 21Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. 22And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God's own Spirit to live. Paul's mission to the Gentiles
1One Sabbath when Jesus and his disciples were walking through some wheat fields, the disciples picked some wheat. They rubbed the husks off with their hands and started eating the grain. 2Some Pharisees said, Why are you picking grain on the Sabbath? You're not supposed to do that! 3Jesus answered, Surely you have read what David did when he and his followers were hungry. 4He went into the house of God and took the sacred loaves of bread that only priests were supposed to eat. He not only ate some himself, but even gave some to his followers. 5Jesus finished by saying, The Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath. A man with a crippled hand (Matthew 12.9-14; Mark 3.1-6) 6On another Sabbath Jesus was teaching in a Jewish meeting place, and a man with a crippled right hand was there. 7Some Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses kept watching Jesus to see if he would heal the man. They did this because they wanted to accuse Jesus of doing something wrong. 8Jesus knew what they were thinking. So he told the man to stand up where everyone could see him. And the man stood up. 9Then Jesus asked, On the Sabbath should we do good deeds or evil deeds? Should we save someone's life or destroy it? 10After he had looked around at everyone, he told the man, Stretch out your hand. He did, and his bad hand became completely well. 11The teachers and the Pharisees were furious and started saying to each other, What can we do about Jesus? Jesus chooses his twelve apostles (Matthew 10.1-4; Mark 3.13-19) 12About that time Jesus went off to a mountain to pray, and he spent the whole night there. 13The next morning he called his disciples together and chose twelve of them to be his apostles. 14One was Simon, and Jesus named him Peter. Another was Andrew, Peter's brother. There were also James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15Matthew, Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus. The rest of the apostles were Simon, known as the Eager One, 16Jude, who was the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who later betrayed Jesus. Jesus teaches, preaches, and heals (Matthew 4.23-25) 17Jesus and his apostles went down from the mountain and came to some flat, level ground. Many other disciples were there to meet him. Large crowds of people from all over Judea, Jerusalem, and the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon were there too. 18These people had come to listen to Jesus and to be healed of their diseases. All who were troubled by evil spirits were also healed. 19Everyone was trying to touch Jesus, because power was going out from him and healing them all. Blessings and troubles (Matthew 5.1-12) 20Jesus looked at his disciples and said: God will bless you people who are poor. His kingdom belongs to you! 21God will bless you hungry people. You will have plenty to eat! God will bless you people who are crying. You will laugh! 22God will bless you when others hate you and won't have anything to do with you. God will bless you when people insult you and say cruel things about you, all because you are a follower of the Son of Man. 23Long ago your own people did these same things to the prophets. So when this happens to you, be happy and jump for joy! You will have a great reward in heaven. 24But you rich people are in for trouble. You have already had an easy life! 25You well-fed people are in for trouble. You will go hungry! You people who are laughing now are in for trouble. You are going to cry and weep! 26You are in for trouble when everyone says good things about you. That is what your own people said about those prophets who told lies. Love for enemies (Matthew 5.38-48; 7.12a) Jesus continued: 27This is what I say to all who will listen to me: Love your enemies, and be good to everyone who hates you. 28Ask God to bless anyone who curses you, and pray for everyone who is cruel to you. 29If someone slaps you on one cheek, don't stop that person from slapping you on the other cheek. If someone wants to take your coat, don't try to keep back your shirt. 30Give to everyone who asks and don't ask people to return what they have taken from you. 31Treat others just as you want to be treated. 32If you love only someone who loves you, will God praise you for that? Even sinners love people who love them. 33If you are kind only to someone who is kind to you, will God be pleased with you for that? Even sinners are kind to people who are kind to them. 34If you lend money only to someone you think will pay you back, will God be pleased with you for that? Even sinners lend to sinners because they think they will get it all back. 35But love your enemies and be good to them. Lend without expecting to be paid back. Then you will get a great reward, and you will be the true children of God in heaven. He is good even to people who are unthankful and cruel. 36Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you. Judging others (Matthew 7.1-5) 37Jesus said: Don't judge others, and God won't judge you. Don't be hard on others, and God won't be hard on you. Forgive others, and God will forgive you. 38If you give to others, you will be given a full amount in return. It will be packed down, shaken together, and spilling over into your lap. The way you treat others is the way you will be treated. 39Jesus also used some sayings as he spoke to the people. He said: Can one blind person lead another blind person? Won't they both fall into a ditch? 40Are students better than their teacher? But when they are fully trained, they will be like their teacher. 41You can see the speck in your friend's eye. But you don't notice the log in your own eye. 42How can you say, My friend, let me take the speck out of your eye, when you don't see the log in your own eye? You show-offs! First, get the log out of your own eye. Then you can see how to take the speck out of your friend's eye. A tree and its fruit (Matthew 7.17-20; 12.34b,35) Jesus continued: 43A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. 44You can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces. You cannot pick figs or grapes from thorn bushes. 45Good people do good things because of the good in their hearts. Bad people do bad things because of the evil in their hearts. Your words show what is in your heart. Two builders (Matthew 7.24-27) Jesus continued: 46Why do you keep on saying that I am your Lord, when you refuse to do what I say? 47Anyone who comes and listens to me and obeys me 48is like someone who dug down deep and built a house on solid rock. When the flood came and the river rushed against the house, it was built so well that it didn't even shake. 49But anyone who hears what I say and doesn't obey me is like someone whose house wasn't built on solid rock. As soon as the river rushed against that house, it was smashed to pieces! Jesus heals an army officer's servant (Matthew 8.5-13; John 4.43-54)