Audrey Hepburn is my Idol

Audrey Hepburn is My Idol

Rev. Fiona Heath     December 13th, 2015


I was not a graceful child. 

I regularly knocked over glasses of milk, tripped going up the stairs, banged knees, hips and elbows on everything.

I never wear white because I know from years of trying, that I will spill tea on myself.   And I won’t notice for hours.

Grace is not my middle name.

But there were times I longed to be graceful. 

So as an awkward clumsy kid, who mostly wanted to be Han Solo in Star Wars, I adored Audrey Hepburn.

I watched Roman Holiday many times, wishing for scarves and sunglasses and style.

Audrey was effortlessly elegant, whether in Givenchy gowns or blue jeans.

As a childhood ballet dancer, she retained that physical grace the rest of her life.

If you had asked me what grace was as a child, I would have said Audrey Hepburn.

This might be a shallow sense of grace – perhaps even a misleading one – a sense of gracious, effortless beauty. 

True grace is more complex. 

As, of course, was Audrey Hepburn.

Audrey was a very graceful person but she was also a flawed human being – she had affairs, she had tantrums, she had her good days and bad days.

But that doesn’t stop her, doesn’t stop any of us, from being graceful.

And you can make a good case for Audrey as the epitome of grace.

Especially when you know not just her elegant image, but her story.

Audrey’s parents moved in high social circles, with her mother Ella a minor dutch artistocrat.  In the thirties, living in England, her parents were active in the fascist movement, and were Nazi sympathizers. Ella actually attended the infamous Nuremberg rallies.   

When World War II broke out, Audrey’s mother Ella, divorced, thought they would be safer in Holland than in England, because Hitler wasn’t going to invade a neutral country.

Unfortunately, she was wrong.

They spent the war in the difficult conditions of the occupation.  One of her elder half brothers was arrested and spent part of the war in a munitions factory in Germany. The other went into hiding.

Already devoted to dancing, Audrey would participate in secret performances which were fundraisers for the Resistance.  At others times, she would act as a courier, taking messages for the resistance, as the soldiers rarely stopped and searched children.  She was an eye-witness to the train deportation of jewish people.

By the end, a terrible winter and the occupation meant limited food for the Dutch, many began to freeze and starve.

Even Hepburn’s relatively well off family had to grind up tulip bulbs for flour.

When the war ended, Hepburn was one of the thousands of malnourished Dutch children and youth helped by UNICEF shipments of food and medicine.

Audrey might have lived out the war in the relative safety of England but ended up in occupied Holland.  Not a moment of grace.

Audrey was born to parents who sympathized with the Nazis yet as a teenager she supported the resistance.

This is grace.

Something wonderful and unexpected in a bad time. Grace.

Grace can be a tricky word for Unitarian Universalists, as it is a concept deeply rooted in Christian theology.

In my time at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary there were many thoughtful conversations about the concept of grace.

Lutheran doctrine argues that people are saved by God alone, not through personal action. For my Lutheran colleagues, being “saved by grace not works” was the expression of a loving God.

Saved by grace echoes our traditional Universalist theology of a God so loving he saves everyone.  

For myself, I don’t sense moments of grace as coming from God.

Grace seems to be more about unexpected moments of good.

Grace is those moments when we re-connect to the greater whole, experiencing all the wonders of life on earth. 

When the chalice of our being is filled with the gifts of life.

Grace is also those moments when we pour out the chalice of our being for someone else.

When we share the gifts of our life with others, no matter how small, how unworthy we think those gifts might be.

Grace is a young dancer in a quiet room.

Audrey was a teenage girl who loved dance in occupied Holland. 

She gave a gift of herself, her talent for dancing to provide a moment of beauty in a troubled times, to raise money for the resistance.

Think of all those people sitting quietly in a room.  Curtains sealing the windows.  Sitting more quietly then we ever do, for fear of being noticed by the soldiers on patrol.

Coming together despite the constant threat of violence, of fear of arrest and disappearance, just to watch ballet, to remember what life was once like, to have hope for a moment.

The music is barely above a whisper so that the sound doesn’t carry beyond the walls.

Imagine young girls passionate for dance, strong and slender, on a make-shift stage.  Unable to train properly, to dance regularly, but taking a chance to use their bodies freely, to express themselves.  To invite everyone in that room to forget the danger and step into a world of beauty – just for a moment.

There is no applause.   

Grace is a young dancer in a quiet room.

After the war, Audrey returned to England to become a professional ballet dancer.  But in the end her height and the lingering effects of long term malnourishment worked against her.

She refocused her passion towards acting.

Her first starring role was Roman Holiday.

The film turned her into a star and she spent two decades creating hits like Charade and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

She later became an ambassador for UNICEF, travelling and bringing attention to the plight of children in warzones and famines. 

She became the image of grace for gawky young girls like me.

Audrey is a good model of grace, not because of her elegant beauty and style, but because she had experienced and given grace through out her life.


Grace often shines most brightly in the darkness.

It’s why so much writing about grace is about those moments of light breaking in when we are at our lowest points.

As Paul Tillich said in one of this month’s readings,

“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness.  It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual…. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. … Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness. If that happens to us, we experience grace.”

Grace is the wave of light breaking into the darkness.

May we all find our way to grace in times of trouble.


My sense of grace is that it comes unexpectedly.

Like Christmas in October.

Last week a little boy named Even died from brain cancer.

He had been battling cancer for many years. It returned earlier this year and despite treatment could not be contained.

It became clear in October that Evan wasn’t going to see another Christmas.

So his parents asked neighbours in the small town of St. George if they would put their Christmas decorations up early.

Word spread throughout the town and the street decorations from the city also went up.

And thanks to social media, Evan’s Christmas wish went viral.

On October 24th Santa Claus came to St. George along with thousands of people for a Christmas parade right down Evan’s street.

There were Christmas lights and artificial snow and reindeer and elves.

Evan got to ride in a police car, meet Spongebob Squarepants and fly with Santa in his sleigh.

It was a great night for Evan and family, an affirmation of love and support in the face of death.

Grace abounds.

And grace, the affirmation of the goodness inherent in life even in the midst of sorrow, exists for all of us.

As Unitarian Universalists we are asked to honour the inherent worth and dignity of each one of us.

Affirming that all of us have worth, even when we feel worthless, is grace.

Grace arises out of the relations between people, when we choose kindness over cruelty, when we seek understanding instead of making assumptions.

It is about giving unexpected gifts of kindness.

It can be hard to treat one another well, especially in busy stressful times like the holiday season.

It requires a level of trust, a sense that we are all trying as best we can.

And so grace, I think, is intertwined with trust.

Trust says that life has value, even in the midst of struggle.

That Christmas is worth celebrating even when death is waiting.

Living can be terrible, dark and deep, but life is amazing.

Grace says stop, notice the amazing awesomeness of life.

Sometimes we just aren’t able to do this.  When we feel spectacularly ungracefull and ungracious.

Sometimes the chalice of our being is empty.

We open ourselves, we trust, and we get broken.

When that happens, experiencing grace can be a struggle.

Wisdom can be found in odd places, and I often find it on greeting cards.

I have a card that is a collage of images, one is a little torn piece of paper, like you find in a fortune cookie.

It says “the trust that others place in you, is your grace.”

I came across this card at a period when I felt particularly graceless – there were a lot of tea stains on my shirts as I struggled in a new environment.

And while I wasn’t entirely sure at the time what the card meant, the words eased something in me.

I have a hard time trusting myself – the people who say you only live once are liars – because I often re-live everything I say and do over and over again – worried that I screwed up in some way. 

But understanding that the trust that others place in you, is your grace,  eased my spirit.

If others could trust me, as they were doing, then perhaps I could trust myself.

Perhaps I was okay as I was, accepted.

And with that sense of trust, comes grace.

That sense of ease, that life can be good, that we don’t have to be in charge, or perfect or even right.

That we can trust, even in uncertainty.

The way of grace says “all the world is shining … and love is smiling through all things.”

If only we pay attention and open, if we take the lid of the chalice of our being, we might see that we are shining too.

I see us shining in this room, all filled with grace.

I see it every month in our theme groups, in the depth of sharing and the tenderness with which we hold one another’s stories.

It will be present tonight in our winter dinner, when we share both the work and the feast.

And I see it in the congregation’s generous choice to sponsor Syrian Refugees, families who have experienced the horror of war and displacement and are seeking hope in a new country.

Grace and light abound when we open to the moment and trust.

We are all part of the great blazing light of life on this little blue-green planet.

Each being shining as brightly as the sun, terrible and glorious.

As people of the chalice we know each of us shines.

In the weeks to come, in this busy stressful, lonely season of joy,

may we shine brightly, sharing our light.

And when we can’t shine, may the light of others fill our cup.

May we be together in trust and kindness.

May we see grace in the world, may we be grace in the world.

So say we all.


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