As a child I learned about “grace”—sanctifying grace and actual grace. The catechism definitions left me cold, especially as I tried to imagine God infusing grace into me, or presenting occasions for me to grow in holiness. I couldn’t connect, so the terms became vague memories.
Only recently has the idea of grace eased back into my life. No one event triggered my re-thinking, but I know it was the person of Elizabeth Ann Seton that stirred it up. A Sister of Charity for over eleven years, I had read several biographies about this first American saint, along with some of her letters. But I had never paid attention to lines such as this that suddenly seemed relevant: “Be prepared to meet your grace in every circumstance of life.” It was the way she named this grace that caught me: “the grace of the present moment.”
What did she mean, I wondered. Why is the present moment so sacred, so revealing? Then I began to practice “meeting my grace” in daily encounters. I had to let go of the past—hurts and accomplishments—and ignore the future—deadlines and plans with friends–to really be in the present. It’s hard work. It’s about awareness and about listening–to others, to myself, to the world around.
It means being present to the present moment, which, I now believe, brings its graces. They are palpable.
I search though my red recipe box and come upon a card in my mother’s handwriting…and I remember the loving way she cooked and cared for me; I feel connected to her, even in her death. I make eye contact with a student who asks, “How was your Thanksgiving?” and seize upon the grace that urges “Ask him about his,” then open myself to hear his heartache. I drive along the Ohio River on my way to work, and instead of reviewing plans for class, I glance over at the river to see the morning sun glinting off its surface. I am energized, and will be really present to the students I go to meet.
When I was young, I never got the idea about being “infused” with grace—was it like taking a shower?– but now I know it. There is something spiritual and physical that changes in me, as the world takes on a new luster. Emily Dickinson describes it this way:
“We noticed smallest things—
Things overlooked before
By this great light upon our Minds
Italicized—as ‘twere.” (1100)
It is the same world, the same reality, but it shifts, as do letters when we change the font to italics. I am thrust into a greater consciousness of my world.
I believe in the present moment and its graces. When I allow myself in all my vulnerability to be open to it, I know there are graces that connect me with a reality bigger than myself, one that invites me to meet it, in every circumstance of my life.
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