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Hearing the voice of grace

Mary had grown up knowing that she was different from the other kids, and she hated it. Born with a cleft palate, Mary would hear the jokes and tolerate the stares of other children (some cruel, others, simply curious) who teased her about her misshaped lip, her crooked nose and garbled speech. Mary grew up hating the fact that she was “different,” convinced that no one, outside her family, could ever love her.
Until she entered Mrs. Leonard’s class. Mrs. Leonard had a warm smile, a round face, and shiny brown hair. In the 1950’s, teachers would administer an annual hearing test. In addition to her cleft palate, Mary was able to hear out of only one ear. Determined not to give classmates another difference to tease, each year she would cheat on the hearing test.
It was called the “whisper test.” The teacher would stand 1-2 feet behind the student so they could not read her lips. The student would place one finger on the opposite ear to obscure any sound. The teacher would whisper words with 2 distinct syllables toward the student’s ear. The student would repeat the phrase to the teacher. When Mary turned her bad ear toward her teacher, she always pretended to cover her good ear. Mary knew that teachers would typically say, “The sky is blue,” or “What color are your shoes?” But not on that day. Mrs. Leonard changed Mary’s life forever. When the “whisper test” came, Mary heard these words: “Mary, I wish you were my little girl.”
Anne Lamott notes that Grace is an “unseen sound that makes you look up.”
Or, stops you. Quite literally.
And gratefully. Right where you are.

Say, on an ordinary day, say with a cup of coffee in your hand (and your mind spinning with the weight of the news), looking out the window at an otherwise bleak early spring sky and landscape, and a narrow shaft of sunlight (through the firs) illuminates the ground near a river rock stream bed where a congregation of Tête à Tête’ daffodils and Iris reticulata leaves and blooms defy any kind of gloom, bring a smile to the face and giddiness to the heart; the tips of their golden yellow and purple booms shouting hope, puncturing any gray.
Yes, this scene is a tonic. There is something about these moments that carry significance, because they are reminders, and they are sacraments. Partial, yes, but containing the full sustenance of grace.

Dag Hammarskjold got it right, “God does not die on the day we cease to believe in a personal deity. But we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance of wonder renewed daily, the source of which is beyond all reason.”
Grace is an unseen sound that makes you look up, even and especially when life calls for cynicism. (Or suspicion or despair or fear or scorn.)
Mrs. Leonard was saying to Mary (and to every one of us today), “You are not at the mercy of untruthful assumptions. They are not the truth of who you are.” You know, those assumptions that keep you confined (in a box), where your heart stays guarded and fearful.

Okay. So, what does any of this matter?
For starters grace empowers us to say NO… to fear and to onslaught and to the weight of fragility.
So. In our world of hurry, noise, restlessness and members only disparagement and anger, where do we hear the voice of grace?
Self-care is hard to come by. And it’s not easy for me to admit when I am emotionally tired. (After all, I don’t want to appear to whine.)
The medicine for sanity? Doses of grace. Like Mrs. Leonard’s whisper, not as susceptible to the violence of noise.
We could use more Mrs. Leonards in our world.

Although (if I’m honest) it does sound too good to be true.
However (this is important), we make a mistake if we assume that we need to orchestrate grace. And an even greater mistake if we assume we must get dressed up for it. Like prom night. Or study for it, like preparing for some multiple-choice test that has right and wrong answers.
Yes, it feels good to hear the affirmation. But it’s bigger than that. Grace is the glue for the sanctuary that mends our spirit and soul.
And here’s the deal… As much as I want Mrs. Leonard’s voice in my ear, I want to remember that I too have a voice. And that voice is a voice of grace.
A voice of mercy.
A voice of kindheartedness.
A voice for sanctuary.
A voice with the narrative where derisive does not need to carry the day.
And whenever we interrupt, and say, “But…” Grace is diminished.
“I do not understand the mystery of grace,” Anne Lamott writes, “only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”
Grace is the soil for seeds of joy. So that our heart feels alive, even in the pain.
Grace fuels confidence inviting us to enter into our day and life with our whole heart, with no need to shut down or hide or strike out at others out of insecurity.
And joy always spills to others.

Today, let us honor places where we can speak these words—this whisper test—of welcome, “You are safe here. You are someone here. You are enough. You matter here.”
Today, I needed to hear the voice of Grace. 

On my morning walk, I chat with the geese. They’re all paired off now, making claim to their preferred pond real estate, away from the flock congregation, readying for nesting season. It’s soon time to welcome goslings. That does my heart good.
Today, a day for March Madness basketball lovers, now ready for the final four, and time to cheer on your favorite team.
And for movie lovers, the Oscars, a reminder of the power of storytelling. And of places where grace touches our lives… That’s my plug for the movies Belfast and CODA.

This week, I’ll be in Green Valley, AZ this week (south of Tucson), time for sunshine and wandering.

Quotes for your week…
It’s like Babette’s Feast. Too often the church is the gruel sippers who have their faces pressed against the window of the world watching the world celebrate life and they don’t get it. When in reality, the father welcomed the prodigal son home in the gospel of Luke, and the world pressed its face against that window to see the celebration of grace. Jean Larroux


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Letters that do my heart good…
–Two very special friends, Lyndon Harris and Fred Burnham, told me story after story about their 8 months at St. Paul’s caring for the heroes of 9/11. It took its toll on both of them. They were the leaders of that small group of volunteers from all over the country who came to offer sustenance and love. Fred was in the stairwell at Trinity Place with the future Archbishop of Canterbury and they all thought they were going to die. They survived and the two of them worked all those months to repair the lives of the broken. I know they mattered. They were Jesus with skin on. Fred died a few years ago, too young.  Possibly from lung disease from breathing the air all those months at Ground Zero. May we never forget. Cathie, Greenville SC
–Thank you for reminding me of and guiding me to the Light every day. The darkness some time may feel too thick and there is always hope that breaks through provided by a smile, a kind word, a good story, a friend, a flower, a butterfly or by the sunshine and a warm breeze. Judit
–Terry, I’ve been a fan for a long time.  This journey in life will always delight us with its surprises.  My sweet 8 yr. old granddaughter wrote this little favorite quote in my journal, this weekend… yes, she called it a quote. “The Magic will always come to you,” Peyton. I’ve shared my journal with my 2 granddaughters and when I visit, they ask to write me a note. But this little note will be my new motto.  I’m not sure where she found this “quote,” so I’m not sure where she got it from, who knows, who cares, I will be full of MAGIC today. Linda (I heard you many yrs ago at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, ID.)


I believe that whatever I seek in miracles, the sacred, intervention of the divine is not in a place where I am now–in a place other than this moment. They have this in common: we don’t look at the world around us as places where God lives.   Rabbi Abraham Heschel

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Pope Francis
(His adaption of St. Francis prayer)

The Cosmic Dancer
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
Mary Oliver

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