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

trust

My daughter is going into the peace corps. I find this so hard to believe. Wasn’t it only yesterday that my mom and I were painting the cow-jumping-over-the-moon nursery? (It was the perfect decor, since we didn’t know whether our little offspring was going to be a boy or a girl.) Wasn’t it only yesterday that we loaded our tiny newborn into her brand new baby carrier car seat and took her up Mount Battie in Camden, Maine on her ‘First Outing”? (She was barely a week old.) It might have been that, combined with our ‘First Plane Ride’ two weeks later, that instilled in her the wanderlust that drives her to this day. (We moved to Kansas soon after she was born.)

She leaves for Kosovo on June 6. And while I have known, ever since she applied, that this could actually happen, when we got the news that she had received her official invitation, reality began to set in. In all honesty, I secretly hoped that she wouldn’t make it through the very competitive selection process. But as time tends to do, the grief over the thought of having my daughter so far away from me for so long has waned, somewhat. The roller coaster of emotions that go along with this separation will carry me for the next two-and-a-half years, to be sure. And yet, when I sit with all of these realities in prayer, I know God’s grace.

My mind tells me, she’s going so far away… And God responds, she’s an adult, now.
My minds says, it’s so dangerous… And God responds, I’ll watch over her.
My mind tells me, she won’t have a car, or a mall, or her comfy bedroom… And God whispers, she doesn’t NEED any of those things.
My mind tells me, she NEEDS my love and guidance… And God chuckles a bit. Because God is love, and God is in every face she will see every day during this amazing adventure on which she is about to embark.

It’s funny, this parenting thing. We try to love them with all our hearts, we guide them, we protect them. We say “no” perhaps a few too many times. Or maybe not enough? And we pray. A lot. We do all of these parenting things imperfectly, at best. And somehow, with God’s grace and with Holy Mystery, they become a person who wants to serve others. I’ve thought about this so many times in the past few months. Where did this desire in her soul come from? I’m not entirely sure that I had anything to do with it. But I delight in it, I believe in it, and I am overflowing with gratitude for it.

Today, I pray for complete trust in God’s plan, that plan that is Holy Mystery.

I invite you to do the same.

Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
-Matthew 19:21

dedication

In the days leading up to the dedication celebration of our parish’s new church building in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, I found myself praying with lovely little story in a book by Margaret Silf:

I remember well the morning when, after listening to all my outpourings regarding the chaos running riot in my life at that time, my long-suffering and very wise friend commented simply, ‘Just let the Spirit hover over the chaos.’

Silf goes on to connect chaos with creation – with God utilizing raw material to make something new, and God declaring that it is good. She explains, “Chaos is a sacred reality, the very thing that is needed for a new creation to begin. Chaos is a gift, overflowing with potential.”

I’m sure that those who worked on the project of building a new church for the people of St Joseph’s parish would agree that chaos was at least a small part of the picture. Whether it be the abundant rains that fell during the building of the foundation, or the many tradesmen working simultaneously on the floor, the ceiling, and everything in between, or the logistics of the parking lot (aka construction site) on Sunday mornings, chaos is a reality with projects such as these.

Organized chaos. That’s how I would describe the very moment that the doors were opened and the parishioners started streaming into the finished building, the majority of people seeing the beauty of this creation for the first time. No amount of planning or forethought could predict exactly how this would go. And the spirit hovered over it, showering everyone with grace.

The archbishop helped us to breathe life into this building on Saturday. The altar was ceremoniously and beautifully anointed with sacred chrism, the walls and the people blessed with holy water, and our prayers and intentions for the future of this space carried to God as incense filled the air. The Dedication Rite, beautifully orchestrated with a reverence befitting of the occasion, is something that few people are privileged to experience in one lifetime. It is a moment saved for all eternity in the life of this parish family.

During his homily, Archbishop Chaput likened this dedication to the dedication of ourself to God, in baptism and confirmation. And every time we receive Eucharist, or participate in the celebration of any sacrament, the Holy Spirit, which hovers over the chaos of our lives, showers us with grace. At the same time, the significance of this particular dedication for each of us is enormous. It is a new beginning, for the church in Downingtown, but also for each of us. A Holy moment of conversion. Grace abounds more and more.

During the chaos we have experienced as a parish family these past months and recent years, the spirit has hovered over us, blessed us, and called to us. May we continue to learn how to answer.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

-Ephesians 3:14-17

gentle prophets

A few months ago, on a silent directed retreat, I spoke to my assigned spiritual director about something I’ve only shared with a few people: my personal call from God to be a “gentle prophet” in this world.

The director tried to talk me out of this. She tried to tell me that prophets are never gentle, and that if I wanted to embrace this call of mine, I’d have to drop the “gentle” part of it. Prophets, she said, are people like Jeremiah, hated by those to whom they preach and despised for their message.

At the time, I nodded my head in agreement. Surely, someone who had been directing retreats and retreatants for so many years must know a lot more about prophets than me. And yet, her words have stuck with me, challenged me, made me think. And I’ve come to this conclusion. In my heart of hearts I know that she was incorrect. Gentle prophets can, and do, exist, and must continue to do so in this modern world.

This morning, I ran across a wonderful piece by Ron Rolheiser about this very thing. Rolheiser wrote about my kind of prophet back in 1995. You can read his article here:

http://www.ronrolheiser.com/columnarchive/?id=1062

As I sit here this morning considering all that Rolheiser says, I begin to see this gentle “prophet-ness” as a sort of bridge. The only constant in most of our lives is change. We move from place to place. We leave jobs, and find new ones. We get married, have children, and do our best to adapt to their constant change and growth, all the while ourselves constantly changing and growing older. Sometimes, our marriages end. Or we sever ties with people we have loved. Or we suffer deep personal losses that seem to make no sense at all.

As Rolheiser says, the task of the prophet today is “to keep incarnate the wide, all-embracing heart of God, a heart that has many rooms.” To embrace change and continue to love through it. To bridge the hurt and anger and indignation that inevitably comes from living. And to respond with gentleness and compassion.

Today, I pray that my evolving sense of purpose continues to be molded and shaped by God. I pray that providence allows me to live out my purpose with renewed commitment and love. And I pray for each of us to know, in a deeply personal way, God’s all-embracing heart.

I invite you to do the same.