The title of this blog, “Mil gracias,” plays with its two senses. The first is the common Spanish meaning, “Thank you, a lot!” (at least a thousand times over). But literally, the phrase says, “A thousand graces,” and reflects Saint Paul’s exuberant teachings on “the riches of God’s glorious grace that he lavished on us” and continues to freely give.
I’ve identified my poetic vocation as that of “seeing and saying the grace of God hidden in the ordinariness of life.” I’m a God-spy. And right now I’m sensing the tug to do my job.
Piercing through the celebrations of this Christmas season, the Shady Hook shootings remind us of the surrounding darkness. Yet the light of the Christ child shines brighter. It seems important this Christmas to see and name the grace of God all around me. So here’s a simple list of grace-sightings this last week.
--The first snow fall of the year here in Newberg, although modest in comparison to other places, was beautiful. This day, whenever it comes, should be considered a holiday in the best sense of that word. A holy day.
--We went to the holiday Christmas concert with “Wendy Goodwin and friends.” Not just the excellence of the musicians, but the passion and creativity they poured into it made it more than a performance. It was worship.
--We had a friend over for dinner; then we went to see “The Hobbit.” I love Tolkien, but the best part of the evening was being with Lynn, sharing our struggles and joys, affirming how the light is slowly overcoming the darkness in our current experience.
--Our home was in chaos for most of the week as we are finally taking out those ugly old base-board heating units, then repairing the wall and floor. It’s not done yet, but I see order emerging from the chaos. I see grace especially in Hal’s diligence and gentleness. Several times he reassured me, “You’re going to be really glad we’ve done this, Nancy.” I already am.
--I negotiated the tickets for our trip next year to Rwanda to be with our kids and grandkids. We’ve saved our frequent-flier-miles for four years to make this possible. Normally I do tickets online but this one was complicated, with several stops along the way, so I needed the help of an agent. My heart sank when I heard her voice over the phone, asking “Whatta ya want?” She was obviously not having a good day. And for the next hour the crabby agent and I worked together to find out, first of all, if this trip was even possible. “It can’t be done,” she informed me. I had done enough research ahead of time to know that it was possible, so I gently suggested a way, and she actually tried it on her computer and found I was right. But it took a lot of searching and experimenting to finally find a path to the final ticket. The grace note in this encounter was that the Spirit helped my spirit to keep gentle, kind and patient the whole time, with our trip to see the grandkids at stake. At the end of the hour, the agent was no longer crabby. We were actually laughing together and wishing each other a merry Christmas. I sensed that her spirit was lighter, maybe ever merrier, for the encounter. That was all grace.
--I finally followed through on my inner urge to volunteer at the local library. I don’t have a lot of free time, but I’ve wanted to do something for and in the community, and I love the library. I’m going to give one afternoon a week, and Wednesday, my first day, I learned how to plasticize new paperbacks. The best part was sitting at the table in the workroom with two other volunteers and our overseer, getting acquainted with them while working with my hands. I learned that the library receives about 400 hours of volunteer labor a month, and that this is part of what enables it to offer its services free to the community. Sometimes God’s grace flows through local government services. I’m glad to make my minuscule contribution. (And I pray now for grace to manifest through the national government. Miracles do happen. Christmas teaches us this.)
--Grace comes through Scripture, and a few days ago my friend Judy sent a Christmas email letter with a message from the Psalms that spoke to my condition (as we Quakers say): “With you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9). Those words have been swimming through my spirit ever since, and I sense new hope for several situations. This is a good word for a God-spy.
--Last week began with the North Valley Friends annual children’s Christmas program. Without much time to rehearse, the drama was delightfully klutzy, with lots of laughter. What I noticed is how people are cherishing the children in their lives. It’s one of the lights that contrasts to the darkness around us.
Today after lunch we travel to Springfield to be with our daughter and her family, including three rascally urchins we will be delighted to cherish. Christmas has a different feel this year. The lights and laughter stand out against the darkness in sharper contrast. How good to affirm that in the coming of the Christ-child, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot put it out” (Jn. 1:5).
Grace, all grace.