I once heard a talk given by Bishop Paul Andre Durocher on the topic of grace. He filled his presentation with concrete images to break this open. He told the story of a little boy in Grade 2 who was teased for wearing a bow tie to school. One day, a little girl chastised the bullies and told the boy that he was special for wearing his bow tie. This image stuck with me. A simple moment of grace. Grace happens and we are lifted up. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grace as “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.” The little girl was restoring dignity to the boy with the bow tie and empowering him to be his true self. Grace, amazing and healing, breaks through in the most humble places.
Where do we find grace in the midst of the struggles and heartaches caused by the Covid-19 pandemic? It is not easy and seems trite to do so. And yet, grace surrounds us. I think of communities in Italy singing on their balconies and hanging signs and banners; “Andra tuto bene!” We all desire the message that “all will be well” and grace helps us to know this is true. Front-line workers who believe in doing all they can to assist the very ill. This is grace. Teachers who miss students and want to be with them, as uncomfortable and challenging as it is at this time — this is grace. It comes through the grocery store clerk who sanitizes after each transaction and then meets the next person with a friendly greeting and smile. Grace is musicians who perform online or from their driveways, sharing their joy of music. Grace is the call to learn about injustice and racism by listening to the voices that help us understand. It is the feeling of affection and solidarity, even through the awkward presence of a computer screen. The mere gesture of wearing a mask and keeping our distance is an example of grace in action. The divine breaks through and we are uplifted.
I was privileged to tour care homes with a former colleague of mine to provide music to seniors. This was a scary time as many facilities were in complete lockdown. Witnessing the resilience and joy of the residents and their care workers was a moving experience. Each song left Patricia and I touched by voices joining in or dancing on a balcony. At one particular home, we were serenaded by a resident as we headed back to our cars. Grace, giving and receiving. It surrounds us and rains upon us.
In the midst of the unknown and cold reality of an insidious illness that breaks apart our traditional ways of forming community, how can we embrace a feeling of gratitude? It is almost as if creation is giving us a message that we need to step back. Slow down, look around you, appreciate the gifts of life! We have been forced to spend more time with family. We have taken more time to cook meals, garden, and learn about life and the world. Strangely enough, in this time of isolation, we are having to learn how to be present.
Just like recognizing grace, it is also hard to move ahead in a spirit of gratitude. Like grace, gratitude lifts us up. My gratitude comes for the abundance that life brings, for the sorrow as well as the joy. I am grateful for the passing of time and the lesson that it is all still a mystery. The divine is there in it all, our God never abandons humanity. We learn, we become more resilient and we are restored. Perhaps we were in great need of restoration. I am grateful for the grace that surrounds me, for the love that is never defeated by crisis or challenge and for the life that holds it all.
Gratitude and grace have broken open in numerous moments for me since March 2020. The world is ever changing and we are still loving, curious and longing for community. There is no denying the great deal of grieving and loss that have been part of this experience. Despite everything, grace will see us through and a spirit of gratitude will help us to create the world anew. I hope this time is a renewal for our global community and for our Church. I hope that I can continue to strengthen my own spirit of gratitude and ability to realize the grace that God gives so abundantly.
A little boy with a bow tie, the new offspring for an orca, a family dinner around the table or a child reading with her parents. These are examples of moments of grace for which we can be grateful. Pandemics don’t last. God’s love is everlasting.
–Jan Bentham is a Retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.