Encounter Grace

This is the seventh and final installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
and leaves me
like a needle

in a haystack
of light.
1

Asked to name things for which I’m grateful, I’m capable of a long litany, ranging from the invention of the Frisbee, to the Alexa currently playing Mozart, to the jalapeno plants in my garden actually producing more than last year’s two peppers. But that’s not really how I think about gratitude, as discreet elements of my life. Gratitude is an orientation to the world.

Gratitude stems from my understanding of how God is in the world and how I am in the world. It begins with grace. Grace, meaning the love and forgiveness of God, is at the heart of our faith. Grace is always gift. We do not earn grace; we do not warrant grace; we cannot lose grace. It is ours by the choice of God to be for us, particularly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It comes to us in every moment, covering us, embracing us, holding us from the start of our lives beyond the end of our lives. The lavish love of God is given to me, it claims me as God’s own beloved. That is fantastically overwhelming, nearly unbelievable, and produces such a sense of joy and wonder within me that it changes how I see everything.

If grace is poured out upon me, as angry, anal, and annoying as I am, then grace must be poured out upon everyone, upon the entire creation. It’s a Julian of Norwich moment of revelation: though we are as small and fragile as a wee hazelnut, God sustains us out of God’s great love for us. We are all held by grace, soaked in it, protected by it, surrounded by it. It is possible to forget this, and to see only the mess and brokenness of the world; I can go to a dark place reading about Yemen, trying to negotiate the shrinking public school budget, or staring at the pain plaguing multiple friends. The darkness is real; we’re caught in the mess of the world, some of our own making and some the collective swell of bad human decisions for centuries. We call all of that sin. And we’re caught in it like a web.

Yet, light overcomes the darkness; Jesus rises from the grave. Grace flows through the web of sin. I can expect that in all things, the muck and the mire as much as the sun and the smiles, God is at work. Jesus’ defeat of death means that grace is loose in the world. The Holy Spirit swooshes through us and through our world, bringing good out of evil, moving to create serendipitous moments, causing a pop of laughter in dread times. I used to think all of the gifts of a day- the fortuitous finding of a friend in the grocery, the kind word offered on a really down day- were coincidence or luck. Not anymore. That’s grace. That’s God. That’s the Holy Spirit doing her best to reveal goodness, bring out kindness, and sustain every one of us.

And what I can be left with but gratitude? If God has claimed me as a loved one, if God has chosen to love all of us like that, and if God is constantly moving in the world so as to bring people together, promote peace, and mend brokenness, what can I do but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and expectation? That’s quite an orientation to have to reality, and it has shifted everything about my life. I expect God will show up; I expect to encounter grace; I expect God is at work in your life and mine and across the globe. And when grace finds me or when someone shares how grace has found them, I throw my head back in laughter or fall on my knees in tears, grateful to the One who makes all good things possible.

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips….

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
2

The Rev. Melinda Hall is vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville, and Church of Our Saviour, DuBois. 

1 Oliver, Mary. “Mindfulness.” Why I Wake Early. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

2 Oliver, Mary. “Why I Wake Early.” Why I Wake Early. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

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