The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Grace

A reflection on the mystery and bounty of grace

Words by Elizabeth Alexander

A reflection on the mystery and bounty of grace — that profound force transcending all transgressions, prejudices, and creeds. With lyrics grounded in the realities of life and an understated piano accompaniment, this intimate, conversational song is rooted in quiet compassion.

Vocal Ranges: low: g-b’ / medium: b’-d” / high: c’-e”

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

It took me five years to write Grace. Every few months I returned to the song and eked out another couple of lines, but something essential was always missing. Grace felt infinitely immense and infinitely intimate at the same time, making it impossible for me to get my hands around this powerful concept.

The very word “grace” came with cultural baggage. Springing from the same Latin root which brought us words like “gratitude,” “gratis” and “gratuity,” grace is all about generosity freely bestowed, irrespective of whether that bounty has been earned. But in our time, grace has become so closely associated with Christian doctrine that many people define the word narrowly – as something bestowed only by God, and granted only to those who hold certain beliefs. I wanted my song to express how universal grace is, a gift and blessing far too precious to be limited to a chosen few.

However, my biggest challenge was that my lyrics kept making grace sound like a one-size-fits-all solution to all problems or a magical cure for all losses. I couldn’t manage to balance the essential beauty of grace with the brutal heartbreaks of life. But in my grieving days after the sudden death of a young family friend, I returned a final time to my draft. And I finally found a way to sing about grace in a way that was both awestruck and real.

Text

Grace

It’s how I hold my head up after I have missed the mark,
It’s how I know I’m loved when things are dark,
It’s how I stand when I am feeling small,
How I stand again after a fall –
It’s how I’m even standing here at all:
Some people call it Grace.

Falling down like rain on everyone,
So warm, like greetings from the sun,
Like a gentle snow it’s making every surface glow.
And I know I didn’t earn it:
That’s how I know it’s Grace.

It’s how two people keep their love alive through thick and thin,
It’s how a broken people sing again,
It’s how the wounded set aside their blame,
How the down-and-out cast off their shame –
It’s how I know that holy is my name.
We’re all the same to Grace.

Falling down like rain on everyone,
So warm, like greetings from the sun,
Like a gentle snow it’s making every surface glow.
And I didn’t have to earn it.
No, I didn’t have to earn it:

I didn’t have to earn it through a word or through a deed,
Or through a trial or through a creed,
Or by denying what I need.
I only had to reach out my hand, and it was there.
But still it cannot take away the truths I have to face.
No, that’s not how it works with Grace.

Falling down like rain on everyone,
So warm, like greetings from the sun,
Like a gentle snow it’s making every surface glow.
And I know I didn’t earn it.
No, I didn’t have to earn it.
I didn’t have to earn it:
That’s how I know it’s Grace.

Elizabeth Alexander
© 2015, rev. 2020 by Elizabeth Alexander

Performers

Performers

Solo voice
Premiere: Jeanne Gagné and Elizabeth Alexander. UUMN National Conference (Boston, MA)
Allison King. UU Congregation at Willamette Falls (Oregon City, OR)
Amy Kinley. Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (Johnson City, TN)
Brian Moon. Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson (Tucson, AZ)
Debra Morris-Bennett. First Parish of Sudbury (Sudbury, MA)
Elizabeth Bromley. First Unitarian Universalist Church in Berks County (Reading, PA)
First Park Congregational Church Choir / Patrick Coyle (Grand Rapids, MI)
Haley Rowland (Ithaca, NY)
Kate and Sue McIntire. Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation (Muskegon, MI)
Libby Turner, Ruth MacKenzie and Ruth Palmer. Unity Church-Unitarian (St. Paul, MN)
Linda Lister. NATS National Conference (Las Vegas, NV)
Bertram Gulhaugen. Pacific Northwest UU Music Choir Festival / (Shoreline, WA)
Ruth MacKenzie, Libby Turner and Ruth Palmer. Camphor United Methodist Church (St. Paul, MN)
Shahzore Shah and Ruth Palmer. Unity Church-Unitarian (St. Paul, MN)
Teri Sandoval. Unitarian Universalists of Transylvania County (Brevard, NC)

SSA
Premiere: Women’s HOPE Chorale of St. Louis / Leanne Magnuson Latuda (Saint Louis, MO)
Anna Crusis Women’s Choir / Miriam Davidson (Philadelphia, PA)
Women’s Chorale of Eliot Unitarian Chapel / Jan Chamberlain (Kirkwood, MO)