The Bones of Grace

My wife, Susan, was ill last spring with a serious stomach flu that took us to the emergency room. Tending her brought me closer to the paradox of true care: that giving our all is what matters though we can’t take another’s suffering from them. Yet this awkward tending means everything. On the eighth day, after fixing her pillow and rubbing her head, we heard a bird we didn’t recognize, and that sweet short warble brought us back into life.

We enter the sanctity of our being in the simplest moments — while playing with animals and watching birds fly, or standing in the dark awash with the shimmer of the moon, or watching a loved one wake into their truth. These uncluttered openings are the bare bones of grace. We could name grace as the unnameable presence that lives under all we do or aspire to.

When stopped at the bedroom door while stepping into the day, when the quiet warmth of our nest makes me realize how precious and irreplaceable the simplest things are, then what I’m given is more than enough and I am grateful. In this way, grace appears as a brief communion with the fragility of life. It changes how we move through the thousand tasks that lie before us.

The word grace comes from the Latin, meaning thankful. Gratitude opens us to grace. Thankfulness lets in the energies of life that surround us. When humbled into the open, often against our will, our bones can rattle like wind chimes, making beautiful and haunting music, though it aches to do so. It takes a deeper kind of effort to live what is ours to live, while staying open to the mysterious forces that surround us. As the Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah says:

Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment.

Grace is what wears down the face we show the world, until leaning into what we’re given without a mask is the work of the soul. In time, we’re destined to lose some of what is dear to us, which is only tragic if we forget that the dearness lives in us. Beyond our lifelong dance with loss, it’s wondrous that we should litter the world with things we hold dear. This is one way that we make the world dear. And for all our shouting, we land in silence, and for all our barking about God and truth, we settle, if blessed, into living simply by just being true, the way a mountain is true.

This excerpt is from my book, The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom that Waits in Your Heart (Atria 2016).

*photo credit: Pixabay

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