Eleven years ago I gifted my husband Paul on his 65th birthday with a personalized license plate that in two words summed up his lifelong passion for all things San Francisco Giants: “BLL DUDE.” (Read “Ball Dude.” Hey, I was only allowed seven letters.) He loved it.
Last year, as I accompanied my beloved on his final journey home to God, through multiple medical facilities, doctor consults, and end-of-life conversations, somehow I found myself at the DMV completing an application form for my own personalized license plate. Odd, that. With exquisite hindsight I now see that in a world suddenly reconfigured by terror and heartache, I needed to receive and give a blessing. The license plate I ordered, admittedly obscure to some, would read “GRACED B.” It took over six months and two attempts before the state of California got it right. By the time it arrived, I was shattered by loss, but the simple act of attaching it to my car calmed and centered my spirit. Just seeing it now still has that effect (useful in California traffic).
“Grace” names how and where I stand in the world. It is the truest thing about me, the prism through which I view everything. At every juncture, at every milestone and turning point in my life, even when I could not see or feel it, what I needed (not necessarily wanted) was there – whether a word, an insight, a challenge, a relationship, even a loss. For me, the invitation to enter into Discern/Dream/Scheme is just such a grace though its outcome is unclear and I carry into it more than a little apprehension. Still, my history has taught me to look for grace and to trust that grace is there. This crisis-ridden time in our world mirrors what was already unfolding in my own heart as I ask “Who am I now?” “Who am I for?” It is clearly a turning point for many others as well, one that is given, not sought. This may be a seminal Pentecost moment, a waiting emptiness into which the Spirit can breathe new life and the fire of passion. That is my hope, that God is not yet done with me, so I choose to lean into this inchoate graced possibility in the much the same way that I have learned to lean into grief and labor with it until it resolves. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19) Not yet, but, Lord, I want to see. To each of you, companions who will travel on this way in these next weeks, my desire for me and for you is simply this: “Graced be.”
Let me add a bit since this post was written before I saw the first week prompt. More detail and context will follow later.
“What we can imagine we can do.” Sitting alone in splendid isolation cripples my imagination. I am a synthetic thinker and writer. I need encounter with others to spark creativity and generate energy. I’ve learned to listen more and I find joy in mentoring. Are there projects fermenting in this gathering of seekers and dreamers that call for a joining of gifts? Are there new ways to attend to the signs of the times? What is emerging from our unsought solitude that needs to be heard, supported and sustained so the Church as the People of God can move forward in faith? Can writers and poets and artists who notice more than the rest of us and think outside the box help us do that? For the first time I’m asking questions about the experience of people of color in our church. Risks? At this point, my connections to structures and institutions are few, but I treasure the community of believers and a wide circle beyond. When supported, I have enormous capacity for emotional work. My husband’s philosophy was always: “Risk everything for love.” That works for me. I hope we’ll have opportunities for conversation as well as writing as we go.
A CLOUD OF WITNESSES
Here and now I invoke Mary of Magdala, friend of Jesus and visionary, yet eminently practical. In her life and commission to proclaim good news, I find assurance of Jesus’ love for and affirmation of women in their vulnerability and their strengths. It heartens me that Mary was defined neither by grief nor by clinging to what was. She let go of Jesus as she knew him so as to receive him risen and present to her in an entirely new way. I am also drawn to Thérèse of Lisieux who wrote clearly of her call to priesthood. Within the limits she faced, she freely chose to see love as the essence of her call and to live accordingly. She is one of four women recognized as Doctor of the Church for her original and profound spirituality. At this stage of my life, I seek the same inner freedom, but long for the time when my sisters in faith can use their gifts without constraint. Biographical note: According to family lore, by very odd happenstance, in early 1946 my father was given a first class relic of Thérèse which he pinned to my mother’s hospital gown as she hemorrhaged at 6½ months into her pregnancy with me. On the way to Labor and Delivery the bleeding unexpectedly stopped. The relic disappeared, probably in the hospital laundry. I was born two weeks later weighing 3½ pounds with no complications. My father baptized me in the hospital.