I stood in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn Express in Syracuse one recent Saturday morning before dawn, fumbling with my car keys and coffee cup and thinking about the long drive and long day ahead. I wasn’t headed home but instead to a Eucharistic Congress hosted by the Diocese of Albany at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, where more than 4,000 pilgrims would converge on the sacred ground of St. Kateri Tekakwitha and the North American martyrs.
Driving east on the New York State Thruway, the darkness soon gave way to a slice of bright yellow light on the horizon. I sped toward my destination while the sun crept up bit by bit, treating me to a spectacular light show over the already scenic Mohawk Valley. As I sipped my coffee and sang along with “Blessings” by Darden Smith, a favorite artist from my life in Austin, Texas, in the late 1980s, I was struck by the perfection of that single moment, a glimmer of grace sparked by a sunrise and then cascading downward, catching me and my minivan in its grip.
Lately grace has been elusive or absent, or, more accurately, I’ve been negligent and distracted, which is usually the case when we think grace has up and left us. Amid the busyness of life and the heartbreak surrounding the current scandal in the Church, I’ve forgotten to notice the everyday moments that call us back to God, the miraculous in the mundane, the divine in the daily drudgery. I wrote an entire book about it, but the reality is that being mindful with an eye toward grace has to be intentional; we won’t find it if our literal and figurative arms are folded against it, against God, if we’re moving about our days mindlessly, or, even worse, with our eyes closed to potential beauty.
So, how do we make room for the divine in day-to-day life, especially if we’re struggling, whether that struggle is physical, spiritual, mental, professional, or just plain annoying? Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a deep breath and paying attention to what’s going on around you at that moment—birds chirping at your window, a lawn mower humming next door, the smell of cut grass tickling your nose, your cat purring on the couch next you, the last of the summer flowers nodding their heads. Such ordinary things and yet so full of life and blessing when we break them down, when we stop and pay attention to our own lives.
The morning after the drive to Auriesville, my husband and I were having breakfast in a café near our home. On the table near the door was a vase of rusty brown sunflowers. Although they were slightly past their prime, they looked like a Van Gogh painting come to life—a reminder that even in aging and fading there is beauty, sometimes a particularly profound kind of beauty. On the drive home a little while later, we stopped to take a short hike and spotted a heron standing statue-still on a small island of earth in the middle of a pond—a reminder that there is grace and power in simply being willing to stop and stay in one place for a while.
Of course, life can’t be all hikes and cafés and sunrises. Work and school, chores and challenges get in the way and make it hard to spot the grace hidden in plain sight, something that is magnified, I think, by the fact that the one thing that has always given us comfort—our faith and our Church life—is now mired in pain and confusion, snuffing out the sparks of grace that once came to us unbidden. Don’t let go so easily. Don’t let what’s happening out there rob you of what’s in here, in your heart and soul: an invitation, or, more than that, a right to a relationship with God.
This column originally appeared in the Oct. 10, 2018, issue of Catholic New York.