Divine grace … What does that mean to me?

By Mark Aaron Alvarez II

As I ponder those words, I listen for this voice within, this sense of innate wisdom that I could never turn away. This voice never fades, nor does it fail me. Not in my time of need. Not when I need to understand the twists and turns life presents. I can always feel it. Ever since that day, it has never left me. If anything, it has always protected me.

In my 28 years on this earth, I’ve faced much darkness. I’ve witnessed many sins, having even been a product of one. My mother’s infidelity within her marriage is only the beginning of my story. Because for the years that followed, I was shot, abused and raised within circumstances I could not change or run away from. I’ve spent my entire life trying to understand why I survived. “Born of sin, how could I live? Is there a purpose to all this? Why must I pay for the sins my parents commit?”

And that’s how I came to know it, this transcendent feeling unlike anything else, something I could never truly explain or understand. Divine grace…

“Divine grace” is often defined as the “divine influence” that comes from within us in order to inspire virtue or “to impart strength to endure trial and resist temptation.” In no way am I perfect. If anything, I’m the farthest thing from perfection. But I do know one thing: Conviction does in fact inspire conviction, and conviction is rooted in an exceptionally real, yet extraordinarily strange, unnatural place.

We live in a world filled with temptation, darkness and corruption at every turn. It can be harsh. It can be cruel. But good still exists. You can wonder why, but there is simply no way to truly extinguish the light — not after it has claimed you, has called your name. Not when the flames of one’s conviction burns and spreads like wildfire.

Almost dying at the age of 4 proved something to me. No matter where you come from or what circumstances you were born into, we have been chosen for something. Whatever that might be, as hard as our lives may seem, there is mercy. Even when we don’t deserve it… 

Admittedly, I was forced to struggle and fight for myself. I had to do everything within my power to build a new reality and break the chain that bound my family within this dark place of which there was no escape. But no escape? That’s a lie! There is always a choice. We can choose either to submit to the will of the world, a world of darkness, or to submit to our conviction, a spirit rooted in a world we cannot see, a world of light. 

We are not products of failure. There are no coincidences. 

If we see the world as a place we cannot change, then we will lose our ability to change it. That much is true. That’s why I say being shot was not the worst thing to happen to me. If anything, it was the best thing because I was fortunate enough to grow up understanding how precious life is. In my eyes, I died that day. Every day since has been a gift driven by duty and faith in a purpose that I, to this day, am seeking to find.

We all make mistakes. We all have pasts, stories and secrets we hide within ourselves. Things we refuse to share. We may sometimes feel there is no redemption, in life there is no clear path towards it. But that’s why grace exists, to show mercy when one not ought to, even toward ourselves. With divine grace, it is no different. It’s rejecting the darkness that surrounds us, defying the expectations that bind us, and destroying the limiting beliefs that shroud us from the truth, the ways of one’s own virtue. 

This is more than one man’s perspective. This message is a philosophy I live by. Duty above all else. This phrase is repeated throughout my novel, “Dutybound,” as we see Lucia Sanoon, a high maiden within my world of Terestria, heed the call of an ancient relic that has chosen her to carry out its will. Lucia’s unique connection to the Light Wings, this pendant left to her by her absentee father, was inspired by unique aspects of my life, coming from a deeply personal place.

As she and her allies explore their world that’s been invaded by dark forces, they must discover the story of Terestria’s corruption and face the sins their parents introduced to their world. It’s up to our heroes to end this cycle, to break the chains that bind their world and trap it in darkness. Though it may seem the former generation fails my characters, each in different ways, they must find their virtue and overcome the adversities that hate, pride, envy and greed present. 

Each character arc explores a different virtue connected to an opposing sin. This sin is a reflection of their parent’s greatest folly. My life has directly played a huge role in building the mythos that composes Terestria’s laws of nature. 

The characters each hold a piece of me. Lucia has my judgement and intuition. Luzanna has my inquisition and perception. Leo has my will and temperament. As I explored these ideas within myself, I created this story to illustrate the questions and themes related to divine grace and its place in our lives. “Dutybound” is more than an epic fantasy. It’s a philosophical journey of introspection.

I don’t expect to satisfy everyone with this somber tale, but I do believe every person will interpret it differently. As the characters face the complex duality of their personal convictions, they will be forced to discern right from wrong, light from darkness, and sin from virtue. Their faith will be tested just as mine has been.

At the end of the day, there will always be the question of why certain events happen, good or bad. But it’s up to us to decide what significance they have in our lives. This is a message I hope “Dutybound” readers home in on and cling to. Because I believe if we are to bring our world into a state of moral inclination, away from the corrupt politics brought upon us by former generations, we must remember that the future of our planet lies within our hand and our hearts.

With darkness may come fear, but as long as there is light, there is hope.

Mark Aaron Alvarez II is the author of Dutybound: Light Wings Epic Vol. 1, an epic fantasy set in a world where one’s true power is fueled by the virtue they hold within.