You won’t be clobbered by grace
Yesterday morning I heard the painful sound of a bird crashing full speed into a window in the place that I’m living. I went outside to find a black phoebe on it’s back, wings splayed out, totally dazed. Before my fiercely efficient huntress of a cat could get to it, I picked up the bird and cradled it in the warmth of my hands.
I have done this many times before over the years, and I know that after about 15 minutes the cloud of bewilderment lifts and the bird can once again fly of it’s own accord.
And so I sat down on the patio, committed to being with the bird for as long as it took for it to fly again. My cat sat down at my knee, equally as committed to being there for as long as it took for the bird to fly—hopefully falteringly—again.
Something about holding a bird in my hands always inspires me to sing. And so I surprised myself by humming a made-up tune to the bird while I sat very still.
This has been a particularly relentless week. Too much to do in too little time. Lots of moving parts with very little certain ground. As I sat with the bird, I felt my longing for some set of warm hands, equally as giant to me as mine were to the bird, to reach down and scoop me up. To cradle me, to hum a soothing vibration, and to stare down the would-be threats.
I felt into the sheer grace of that idea.
The poet Mary Oliver is quoted as saying, “You can have the other words—chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I'll take grace. I don't know what it is exactly, but I'll take it.”
This quote came to my mind later in the day yesterday. I can’t exactly say what grace is either, but I would say that holding that bird, stroking it’s feathers above it’s quickly beating heart, was a moment of grace.
Not for the bird. For me. The act of holding the bird was in fact an act of being held…it was the only way yesterday morning I could have been enticed to just sit and be still and actually feel something.
Last year I studied with the Sanskrit scholar Ravi Ravindra, and he brought up the topic of grace. “One isn’t suddenly clobbered by grace,” he said. “There is practice involved.”
I was struck by this idea. I had always thought of grace as just that. High speed into a window. Clobbered.
To illustrate his point, Ravi gave the example of wanting to learn how to play the piano as a child. “It wasn’t just going to play itself. At least not with any beauty or grace. It required much practice.”
To imagine that anything—even grace—can be accomplished without practice and effort is crazy, he said. That’s a hard one for me to grasp, but I totally get it when I see an Olympic athlete throw his arms into the air after the run or routine of a lifetime. Pure grace. The sum of equal parts effort and surrender, engagement and detachment.
And that’s just it. The challenge is that you can’t be attached to the outcome of your efforts in the name of grace. And you can’t control the moments when all the practice pays off and grace alights on your heart like a winged thing.
But you practice anyway.
Instead of waiting for grace to rush in through some unseen threshold and clobber you, you engage in building doorways for grace to enter into your life and meet you.
And the thing is, once you fill your world with doorways that are open to grace, it does. Grace meets you.
What is grace to you?
By what qualities do you recognize it when it arrives?
What are the ways you are training for grace in your life?