Everyday Grace, Everyday Gratitude

This past week I have been meditating on a lovely little poem Everyday Grace by Stella Nesanovich. I know little about Nesanovich other than what can be found in a few short online blurbs. She’s an emeritus professor of English and well-published poet in her own right. A number of readers might be interested in knowing that one of her collections focuses on the twelfth-century-mystic, Hildegard of Bingen.

Nesanovich’s poem grabbed my attention and held it for a number of reasons. First, it poignantly connects grace and gratitude, twin pillars of faith. Grace comes in many forms in the warp and woof of daily life. It is unmerited—based not on our own efforts or goodness. It is sheer gift. And it often catches us by surprise in places and people we least expect. For Christians, grace describes the gift of light, life, and love given to us in and through Jesus. Gratitude then is simply the response to this ultimate Gift and the many smaller gifts we receive every day. Nesanovich’s poem is an expression of thanks for these gifts without explicitly saying so. In other words, she demonstrates everyday gratitude.

Second, Everyday Grace, like the best of poems, invites us to slow down and pay attention to our encounters with each other, for in such encounters we often discover ourselves and God anew. It is all too easy, especially at this time of the year with the advent of the holiday season, to rush through our days and weeks. The frantic pace makes daily pauses simultaneously more essential and more challenging to practice. Choosing to be present to our moment-by-moment experiences, as Nesanovich illustrates so beautifully, opens our hearts and minds to unexpected grace. Kindnesses shared among strangers. Help given and received. A well-timed and warm embrace. In such moments, we experience a profound truth: we belong to one another. We are knit together by our common humanity. In such moments, ideological chasms are filled with and overcome by genuine empathy.

Third, this poem reminds us of the ordinariness of grace and gratitude. Grace surprises us by showing up in the mundane tasks of daily life and in the mundane repetitions of communal rituals and spiritual practices. Transcendence breaks into our routines and relationships. Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, speaks of this as “transpirational integration,” an awareness of transcendence, or the sacred, which ushers us into life-giving service and care for others. In his landmark book, The Developing Mind, he writes, “With transpirational integration our sense of ourselves is transformed. . . . The sacred suffuses each breath, our essence, each step through this journey of life” (p. 320).

Our hope is that this Thanksgiving holiday, you experience the inbreaking of transcendence, so that the ordinary becomes sacred for you. Take time to pause and to be present to others and yourself. Whether in cooking and eating, talking and laughing, or cleaning and resting, may you experience the delight of everyday graces so that your hearts overflow with everyday gratitude.

Everyday Grace

It can happen like that:
meeting at the market,
buying tires amid the smell
of rubber, the grating sound
of jack hammers and drills,
anywhere we share stories,
and grace flows between us.

The tire center waiting room
becomes a healing place
as one speaks of her husband’s
heart valve replacement, bedsores
from complications. A man
speaks of multiple surgeries,
notes his false appearance
as strong and healthy.

I share my sister’s death
from breast cancer, her
youngest only seven.
A woman rises, gives
her name, Mrs. Henry,
then takes my hand.
Suddenly an ordinary day
becomes holy ground.

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