I loved Kathleen Norris’s book Amazing Grace, Vocabulary of Faith. It is a collection of essays about her life, worshipping in a small rural church, being a Benedictine oblate, and how God’s grace is evident in all aspects of her life. But I also loved her book Quotidian Mysteries which explores how our everyday life and daily practices and chores become a living way to communicate to us that there can be a heavenly value to all the mundane things we have to do in this mortal life, which applied with love, can lead us to be the person we’d like to be. In my mind she is talking in these books about how we too can find moments in our daily lives where God’s grace moves through us and into the world.
The concept of how God’s grace touches my life and the lives of those around me has been a source of interest and contemplation for quite a while. The idea that the immense grace that God has showed us by forgiving and redeeming us is almost beyond human comprehension, but when I think about how that grace has manifested itself to me through others, it becomes a touchstone and a cornerstone of my spiritual life. Today I would like to talk about how we can become more fully aware of God’s grace in our lives and also what that means for those we interact with on daily basis.
As you may or may not know, I work at Gonzaga University which is a Catholic and Jesuit institution, and during my time there I was fortunate to be able to do a nine-month spiritual program called Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life. The spiritual exercises were developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, to help prepare them for their calling as men of God. So I got a good-sized dose of Catholic thinking and a quote by St. Augustine that says that Grace must be received. St. Augustine says “ God gives where he finds empty hands; A man whose hands are full of parcels can’t receive a gift”. This echoes the final prayer of the Spiritual Exercises where it says “take and receive”: we must be willing to give up in order to receive and be empty enough to receive. If our lives are too full of work, hobbies, emotional turmoil, and all the physical and emotional aspects of our lives, do we have the time or ability to receive the grace that God can give us? Or are our hands too full of what we think our lives should be to receive and accept the grace that God has to offer us? One of the many things that Friends worship can offer is this time on Sundays to sit with others and ourselves in silence to be open to the grace that God has to offer.
A quote by George Fox states,
“I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation, and their way to God; even that divine Spirit which would lead them into all Truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any. People had no need of any teacher but the Light that was in all men and women and if people would be silent, waiting on God, the Light would teach them how to conduct their lives, teach them about Christ, show them the condition of their hearts”
So the history of the Friends is one in which preparing ourselves to see God’s grace is key to both worship and to life. But at least for myself, all too often in the reality of work and life and relationships, most days I find myself juggling the parcels of my daily life, and the grace I probably so desperately need I am unable to hold onto and let it sustain me. So the question remains how do we allow ourselves to open our hearts and lives on a daily basis to receive the grace we need to be the representatives of God’s grace here on earth?
I think one way might be more intentional in looking at our lives and our days and asking God for specific aspects of his grace. Perhaps we know that a day will require additional patience; maybe if we know we will be called on to listen more deeply, to be more empathic, to be more courageous, to seek to cultivate peace, we can ask God for a specific aspect of his grace to face the situations that the day may bring.
One of my favorite New Testament passages is from Matthew 10:46-52:
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
What I like about this passage is verse 51 where Jesus asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” I think for most of us it wouldn’t even enter our minds to ask that question — obviously the blind man wanted to see, but Jesus didn’t make that assumption, he asked the question “What do you want me to do?” The man did ask for his sight, but he was asked to state and own what he wanted from Jesus. I think that too often I am not aware enough of what I need to be able to ask God for that grace. I, like many Protestants, was raised to do a great job of intercessional prayer. We had lists of people we prayed for, and we didn’t hesitate to ask God to touch others and show his grace to those we knew and those we didn’t. But I don’t recall that with the exception of prayers of supplication (like please let me pass this test, or please let the wonderful boy call me) that I never intentionally thougt to ask God to be filled with his grace and to go into my day looking for signs of his grace and ways in which I could offer that grace to others. St. Ignatius believed it is important to “be aware of the grace you are seeking”, that is, the spiritual gift or virtue (grace) you need or want at the moment. And he began his prayers with “I begin my prayer by asking God our Father for the grace I am seeking”
So while we may begin our day asking for God’s grace, often we don’t take the time to reflect on whether it has been given. Sometimes there are huge moments that blink as if in neon saying “God at work”, “God at work” but more likely we might find ourselves missing those small moments when God’s grace has entered our lives. So perhaps the other bookend to our being aware of God’s presence in our lives is taking the time to reflect and see where God’s grace has been given. One of the hallmarks of Ignatian spirituality is the Examen. The Examen is done daily, and it is the time where the individual reflects on their day, the good the bad, and also intentionally looks for where God may have been working that we may have missed. It is also a time where we can be honest with ourselves, see those times during the day where we did not show God’s grace to another and ask forgiveness for those shortcomings.
One of the joys in my life is helping people be able to see where God’s grace may have touched their lives. A few years ago after experiencing spiritual direction during the Spiritual Exercises program, I felt called to train to be a spiritual director and undertook a two-year program at North Park Seminary in Chicago to be certified as a Spiritual Director. A spiritual director meets with individuals who are seeking to discover, deepen or renew their spiritual lives. Spiritual direction involves for the most part listening to the directee and helping them see where God might be working in their life and leading them. It gives individuals a time of reflection and a chance to tell their story and hopefully better see God at work in their life and perhaps determine what they can do to strengthen their spiritual life. The core if this work is allowing time and space for God’s grace and goodness to be seen and become known.
So as we live our lives full of the packages we hold and the responsivities we juggle, my prayer and hope is that this week you will take the time to lay down those packages and pick up the gift that is God’s never ending grace, be able to ask for the specific graces that you need, and then reflect and thank God for the ways his love and grace has touched your life.