inspiration

What is grace?

I like to define grace as a fleeting experience in which God is clear and evident. With this broad definition, grace can be known in so many of life’s moments. It might be a moment of shared prayer with a friend. It might be observing an interaction between strangers in which God seems to be whispering, “notice this.” Sometimes, I recognize grace in the vast, clear blue sky. Always, I experience God at the beach, whether in the sound of the waves or the view of the horizon. Grace is even evident in frustration, pain, suffering, and sadness. God makes every moment, every breath, an opportunity for grace.

I write this “new” (revised) introduction on June 25, 2015. It’s been over a year since my last post here. When I think about the reasons why I haven’t written, I can’t really pinpoint any one thing. And yet, the call to write is back in my heart. It’s changing and evolving, and I embrace it. I’m confident that God is bringing me back to pointing out the divine in the everyday through my writing.

On June 15, my husband and I began a new adventure. We’re living in Singapore for a couple of years. I’m embracing this change in our lives, and I’ll be collecting my thoughts about Singapore here. In the process, I’m hoping to find grace in the experience of moving, adjusting to living in a large international city, and finding my way.

My passion for writing about grace has always been fueled by a love and appreciation of spiritual writing by wonderful, spiritual authors, who have, in a sense, become my mentors over the years. These writers, some contemporary and some ancient, inspire my thought and inform my life. I’ve included a list of recommended reads for your pleasure.

Through daily prayer, I continually find myself drawn to certain sayings, quotations, and passages. At times, I want to hold onto them for a day, or a week, or longer. At times I create a visual of the quote for myself, and when I do, you might find then here. I hope you enjoy them.

Every day, I pray that God will enlighten my vision, so that I can see the grace that abounds in every moment.

I invite you to do the same.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

–John O’Donohue

rain

It has been a strange spring where I live, here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. One day, it might be 85 degrees, the next, 51. Or, we might have drought-like conditions for a time, only to be deluged with 5 straight days of cloudy skies and rain. Or at times, just the threat of rain will be enough to dampen spirits and cancel plans.

I was talking to a guy who was at our house making a service call, and, as invariably happens with people who cross our paths, talk turned to the recent weather. At the time, the past few days had been “perfect” early summer days. Mild temperatures, brilliant sunshine, no humidity.  Truly a gift. I couldn’t help but delight in the clear blue skies and sunshine, and in the glory of being outside. I even mentioned that the recent rains were a bit much for me. And he responded, “Sometimes, we need the rain.”

It was such a simple statement, and it caught me off guard.

Sometimes we do need the rain. The gift of water, of roots saturated with hope, and of the sound of raindrops on the thirsty leaves of the trees can bring an awareness of the beauty of growth and abundance. The grass grows like crazy, almost out of control. Birds and squirrels find so many sources of water, and are satisfied.

I wake this morning to heavy fog, with dew dripping off of every leaf and branch in the yard. It reminds me of a day on the beach a few years ago, the one beach day that fit into our crazy summer schedule that year. We were going to the beach, no matter what the weather. The “partly cloudy” skies at home, a couple of hours drive from the beach, did not hint at the fact that the sandy shore was socked in by a deep, heavy fog.  As we unloaded the car at the shore, we kept saying to each other, “It’ll burn off in no time.”

I’m sure you can guess the outcome of the weather that day. Not great. And yet… with a slight shift in awareness and perspective, the day became grace-filled. I sat on the sand and looked out at the very still water of the ocean, but I couldn’t see very far. At times, I could hear the low horn from a boat in the distance. Or maybe the horn came from the lighthouse; I couldn’t really be sure. I couldn’t even tell where the fog began. And yet… I listened to the invitation of God, and closed my eyes, I could feel the moisture on my skin from being inside this cloud that sits on the earth. Focusing in on this feeling shifted my awareness.

It’s like a verse that I love from the book of Sirach: “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High and covered the earth like a mist.”  It is the turn to this awareness, the awareness of the Holy Spirit blessing us with grace, and the faith that grace is touching us even when we can not see it or feel it, that allows us to open our hearts even more to the possibility of grace.

Sometimes, we need the rain. And sometimes, we need to change our perspective in order to find the gifts in a difficult situation. God is always inviting us to this, whether it be in deciding to leave a job after a long discernment, in the death of a loved one, in the hurt of a pained and difficult relationship.

When the time for silence comes, I ask you to take up your position for prayer, and then, having asked the help of the Holy Spirit, to be content and wait patiently, expectantly, lovingly, longingly. Try to realize that this all you can do for yourself. God must do the rest. See yourself as the parched ground looking upwards waiting patiently for the rain to fall. You can only wait.

– Fr Roger Schultz of Taize

Lord, send my roots rain.

hope

Recently, I was blessed to be in California for a beautiful sunset. My friends and I timed it perfectly. Since we were staying inland, we left Anaheim and arrived in Laguna Beach just as the sky was beginning to change from daylight to twilight, and the clouds on the horizon had begun to change to beautiful shades of orange, red, and violet. The towering palm trees along the rocky shore became beautiful silhouettes against the changing sky. It was breathtaking, really.

Growing up on the west “coast” of Michigan afforded me the opportunity to watch many sunsets over Lake Michigan. The palm trees and rocky coast of Southern California aside, experiencing the end of a day watching the sun set on the water is profound, and grace-filled. In some way, witnessing the sun disappearing over the horizon speaks to me of hope. At the end of the day, I know that the sun will rise again tomorrow.

This rhythm of nightfall giving way to daylight, giving way to nightfall again is something I think we tend to take for granted. And yet, the repetitious rhythm of life is comforting. The pattern of making dinner, sharing a meal with those we love, clearing the table and putting away the just-clean dishes is a daily routine, one that can become drudgery. Driving to work and anticipating the schedule of the day, doing what is required of us, wrapping things up, and making our way home can be excruciatingly ordinary.

In his book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, John O’Donohue writes,

“The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb-time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle for identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night.”

O’Donohue’s description of rest and renewal in the darkness of night inspires me to see the familiar routines of life that I find ordinary or simply take for granted as blessing. Preparing my daughter’s lunch for school. Walking to the mailbox with the dog at the end of a long day. Answering an email. Wiping the crumbs off the dinner table. An awareness of the gift of life can make the familiar motion of any of these things sacramental.

As my friends and I stood at the railing watching the sunset over the Pacific, we realized that a couple was posing for engagement photos on the beach below us. The four of us, all married for a while, could sense the hope and joy just in watching the body language of the young couple. This, for them, was anything but ordinary.

In the next few days, I invite you to notice the sunset. Be aware of the color of the sky changing. Consider the time of day, the temperature of the air, the amount of time that passes. Whether it is the view from your front porch over the house across the street, or you’re watching through a train window on the way home from work, or you are blessed to be able to  witness nightfall in solitude on a beach somewhere, give yourself a few moments to savor the reality that the sun will rise again tomorrow. Breathe in this grace, and then, rest in the night, with the rest of the world.

seeking water

Today the first reading is from Isaiah chapter 41:

“When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the Lord of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.”

Water is such a powerful spiritual image. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well in the gospel of John, the image of a tiered fountain overflowing in the writings of spiritual masters like Origen and St Teresa of Avila, or even the image of God being as vast as the sea. What is it about water that connects us to God?

I remember once, sitting on the beach at Lake Michigan. We had rented a little cottage within walking distance to the beach, and every morning I would take my bible and go walk in the sand. Eventually, I’d find a spot to sit, and I would read some scripture passage, let it soak into my mind, and pray. I remember one particular morning filled with grace. The wind was completely still, and I sat looking at the water, the early morning sun warming my back. I was able to set my bible down in the sand, open to the passage, without the pages blowing or ruffling in the least. My gaze would rest momentarily on the early morning fishermen on the water, the gulls so far off, hovering above the still water, or the tiny grains of sand that surrounded my feet. When my eyes returned to the scripture, my bible was still open to the same page.

That day on the beach, my thirst for God was quenched. I found God in the grains of sand, in God’s creatures, in the simple act of contemplating a passage of scripture. I’d like to say that God showed up for me that day. But I think the opposite is true. I showed up for God, who is always present. I showed up, waiting, a receptacle for the grace. And God filled me with awareness, peace, and a thirst for more.