"Is there a richer and stranger idea in the world than grace? Only love, grace's cousin, grace's summer pelt.

"Etymology: grace is the English translation of the Latin gratia, itself a translation of the Greek charis, itself a translation of various Hebrew words meaning, collectively, love, compassion, fidelity — all used in context of these gifts being utterly free from God to God's creatures. There are no requisites for grace, no magnets for it, no special prayers to lure it. No guru, no method, no teacher, as the Irish genius Van Morrison sings.

"You can be good, bad, or indifferent, and you are equally liable to have grace hit you in the eye. Non enim gratia Dei erit ullo modo nisi gratuita fuerit omni modo, "it will not be the grace of God in any way unless it has been gratuitous in every way," says old Augustine, the grace-obsessed bishop of Hippo, Augustine, who considered the whole revolution of his life to be the direct result of a shock of grace. Grace is uncontrollable, arbitrary to our senses, apparently unmerited. It's utterly free, ferociously strong, and about as mysterious a thing as you could imagine.

"First rule of grace; grace rules.

"Grace lifts, it brings to joy. And what, as we age, do we cherish and savor more than joy? Pleasure, power, fame, lust, money, they eventually lose their fastballs, or should: At our best and wisest we just want joy, and when we are filled with grace we see rich thick joy in the simplest of things. Joy everywhere.

"Notice how many saints — whom we assume were and are crammed to the eyeballs with grace — are celebrated for their childlike simplicity, their capacity to sense divine joy in everything: the daily resurrection of light, the dustiest of sparrows."