" 'By the grace of God I am in recovery.' That is an extraordinarily common confession among recovering people and doubtless the reason that one of the most quoted sentences in the Big Book says, 'God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.' It is amazing grace.

"What is grace? In a nonreligious sense the word suggests charm, thoughtfulness, beauty, and effortlessness. In Hebrew and Christian usage it means a great deal more. It is a countercultural reality, dramatically different from the world's common currency of debtor-creditor relationships, where giving and receiving what is deserved is the expectation. Grace is the unearned love of God given freely to us and to all creation. It is a healing, life-changing love that forgives and affirms, empowers and liberates. It is the lavish generosity of the Heart of the universe, the arms of God welcoming us back home. It is, according to the New Testament writers, divine love definitively embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

"The four Gospels give us no formal definition of grace. Instead, they tell stories. Grace is the woman lavishing expensive ointment on Jesus' feet (Mark 14:33ff.). Grace is Jesus inviting himself to lunch with the despised Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1ff.). Grace is hosting the poor, crippled, lame, and blind at the banquet instead of those who could repay the invitation (Luke 14:12ff.).

"In the most memorable story, grace is 'prodigality,' in a twofold sense of that word. First it is the prodigality of recklessness, carelessness, and wastefulness. It is the prodigal son who ran off, squandered his money, binged out, hit bottom living among the pigs (an anathema to Jews), then 'came to himself' and began the journey home. Now comes the second meaning. Even before the son could make apologies, his father came running to meet him with a prodigality of love — extravagant, exuberant, lavish. He did not condemn or demand an explanation. There was simply a long, wordless embrace and then a call for celebration. 'For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' (Luke 15:24).

"In our own stories, we meet grace embodied, enfleshed, and incarnate. I have already described some of the grace-bearing people who gave life back to me. And there were others. Grace was in the holy arms that held me on that men's treatment unit — tattooed arms, needle-marked arms, God's arms. While the voices on that men's unit would have struck many as simply crude (reminiscent of the army barracks I had known forty years earlier), they were the sounds of prodigal sons being welcomed home, and it was gracious, holy ground.

"Grace is absolutely fundamental to my recovery, of that I have no doubt. Paul was writing not only to the Romans but also to me when he said, 'Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?' (Rom. 7:24). He was also writing to me in his words that followed: 'There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 8:1). No condemnation! I read those words time and again during that month in the treatment center. Each time I was moved to tears."