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Small gestures of grace

Andre Dubus wrote stories about regular people, like bartenders, mechanics, waitresses and the like. In 1986, after publishing several books of short stories, Dubus stopped to help a woman and a man stranded on the side of the highway, and he was hit by a passing car. Dubus saved the woman’s life by throwing her out of the way, but he lost one of his legs and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
He wrote, “Some of my characters now feel more grateful about simple things—breathing, buying groceries, sunlight—because I do.”  

“The real voyage of discovery,” Marcel Proust wrote, “consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
In Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote that “he allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
What a gift. And here’s the deal: Rebirth is not just for getting my act together, or punching a ticket for eternity, but a reclamation of a part of me that has been buried or lost or forgotten.  

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of rebirth, when life invites us (maybe even obliges us) to give birth to ourselves again. With all due respect to the church of my youth, I have been born again and again and again, and each time, I have found a life and a world to love with all my heart.
Because there are times when I forget. That the light—of compassion and empathy and kindheartedness and gratitude (humanity)—spills from ordinary lives, in ordinary moments, one gesture at a time. One moment of wonder at a time. One moment of being fully alive, fully awake, fully present, at a time. (And yes, even in moments tainted by crisis and tragedy, as each ordinary moment is the hiding place for the holy.)  

As I write this, many find yourself in the crosshairs of the debate about going back to “church” (meaning back to a building). Thank you John Pavlovitz for this, “That’s the beautiful truth of these dark days: even in the middle of a terrifying pandemic, even when schedules are interrupted, even when chaos is ever-present, even when people are scattered, even when buildings filled with chairs and pews and class rooms are closed—the Church is still the Church and love is still love.”
Yes. That’s another thing we forget; that every day of our lives we are walking sermons in gestures small and heartfelt. That we, in this new and awkward and frustrating and enlivening dance of needing and wanting and caring without the capacity to touch, find the compassionate love of Jesus incarnated in our work and our words. In cards and letters and zoom connections. In artistic creations and phone calls and meals delivered to those who are without. In errands run and masks made and prayers lifted. Each single gesture, a portal to grace with power precisely because of our bigger world uncertainty.

In rebirth, we draw from the well of compassion. Beginning with self-compassion.
We wake up to the affirmation that “what lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
A new core to our own spiritual life,
a new sense of gratitude,
a new affirmation of stillness and silence and prayer,
a new appreciation for relationships and community,
a new sensitivity to the vulnerable and the needy,
a new understanding of our own capacity and enoughness,
a new realization that our God has always been too small.  

This is not easy. Birth never is. But “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts,” Henri Nouwen writes, “to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”