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There are many ways of finding grace

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

One of my favorite Sunday treats is watching the television program, “Sunday Morning.”

I love the variety of topics and enjoy the fact it is a way of keeping in touch with friends who are simultaneously involved with the program from afar.

Nestled among pieces that reminded viewers of events from years ago and commented on the comparative value of vinyl records over iPod downloads, there was an intriguing interview Maria Shriver conducted with a multimillionaire—whose name I have unfortunately forgotten.

Though he is the owner of a Fortune 500 company with leisure activities at his command, his passion is both to work with peregrines and to photograph homeless people.

One would think these are two unlikely subjects, totally unrelated to each other. But from his perspective, they are connected. Both offer a completely different view of life. Both impel us to look upward and outward, rather than to avert our eyes. Both require us to review our limited vision and to re-view the world through the eyes of others.

His book, “Finding Grace,” is a compilation of compelling photographs taken of homeless persons. Though this might be perceived as voyeurism, it was clear the photos were snapped after permission was sought and granted.

More importantly, they were the result of serious conversation in which the photographer and his subject had achieved a real connection.

These were individuals who spoke of their families, sufferings, joys, pains—all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs that mark us as human. The photographer was clearly moved by the dignity evident in their faces.

This was a dignity born and borne in the midst of the most undignified situations. It was grace discovered and uncovered in apparent gracelessness.

The story got me thinking. What if each of us was to make a concerted effort to find grace in the people who cross our paths?

What if we were consciously and deliberately to enter different pathways in order to meet folks who might otherwise never enter our lives?

The questions began to plague me. When, where, and how often had I seriously chosen to find grace in that manner? It is so much more comfortable to stay within my own safety zone, meeting and greeting those whose lives mimic my world.

There is grace to be found there, to be sure. But, what of the unfamiliar, untasted, grace to be discovered in uninvestigated sites?

I get a glimpse of this grace when I do rounds as a hospital chaplain.

Our ministry takes us into each room, bids us entry into the hearts and heartaches of those who are bedridden, those who travel the corridors in wheel chair chariots, those who have been diagnosed with terminal illness, those whose illnesses elude diagnosis.

As I knock on the door and await the invitation to “come in,” I wonder what grace I will find. I wonder how it will be wrapped—and if I will be able to unwrap it for all to gaze in wonder.

Often, I find the grace in silent listening. It is amazing how powerfully therapeutic the quiet, compassionate concern can be.

At other times, it is the gift of laughter that permeates the room and brings a different dimension to the not-so-funny pokes, prods and needle pricking and seeming to be endlessly intrusive.

Snapshots grace the bulletin board of some rooms. The goodness, the wholesomeness, of family life is pinned into place as a healing mechanism, a reminder that the person in the bed is surrounded by loved ones and that home is not so far away.

I listen to tales told by frequent visitors to the local convalescent homes. They, too, bear stories of graces found and shared by the permanent residents.

They speak of homeless people who do not dwell on our streets and beg for sustenance, who do not sleep under cardboard blankets, who are not forced to bathe in public restrooms, and do not eat from trash cans.

They are the ones who are clean and fed and bedded down, but can no longer remain in their own abodes. Their brand of homelessness is equally poignant and perplexing.

Silent or angry, accepting or fighting, they offer us the grace of giving. But, they also extend the grace of receiving.

To be with them is to understand the vagaries of life and to appreciate and enjoy what we have been given. It is to learn how to give thanks for what has been taken from us and never to take anything for granted.

My married daughters talk to me about the challenges of rearing the next generation, and I rejoice in the graces discovered and uncovered in my own parenting days.

I remember those days when I cringed at the sound of a teacher’s voice asking me if I was aware of a particular incident or mishap.

The feeling returns when I hear an identical dismay in my child’s voice. She, too, is anxious. She, too, desires the best for her children yet knows that she can only empower them.

She cannot control their decisions. She can only ache with their pain and rejoice in their efforts and successes. We talk for hours, detailing the causes and effects of this day’s dilemma.

We discuss a variety of actions and examine a scenario of reactions. We speak of the power genetics plays in our lives.

We agree on the need to take responsibility for change and its subsequent consequences. We consider possibilities and review choices. We renew our mutual roles and deepen our bonding as mother and daughter. In the process, we find grace and share it.

Will I recall these moments, and so many others, when I am lost in gracelessness? Will I remember them when my short-term memory fails me and I am frustrated with my own inabilities?

Will I look at my frailties as gifts and not punishing facts? Will I recognize the graces awaiting me at every turn, if only I will open my eyes and heart to see, accept, and share them?

This is one time when I know that I may not always answer correctly or completely, but I believe that I will live the questions. This is the grace I have found. It is the grace I want to share with you.

Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of, AWAKENING TO GOD: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of scriptural meditations], leadchaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.