Spotting Grace When You Need It Most
People who know me know I’m prone to tears. Like when I’m singing hymns in church, or when I’m reading a children’s novel to my 11-year-old daughter—so often when I’m reading to her.
Or when I’m talking with my spiritual director. Recently, I cried when I shared this story with her:
The other day, my family visited an Audubon nature reserve, where I thought I spotted one of my favorite birds: a ruby-crowned kinglet—a tiny thing, not much bigger than a hummingbird. I hadn’t seen one in years. But the kids were fighting over my binoculars to get a better look at some cedar waxwings, so I couldn’t confirm my initial impression. Don’t they have that olive-green color, a white eye ring, a habit of flitting their wings? I thought. I’d intended to check my bird book when we got home, but forgot.
The next day, my 15-year-old son and I were taking a walk near our home. I told him that I’d forgotten to look the bird up yesterday, and he reminded me that we’d seen one together in the neighborhood about five years earlier.
“We could even see the ruby crown. You pointed it out to me,” he said.
We talked about the way it hovered to nab insects from the underside of leaves. About the way it flitted its wings, giving it a nervous appearance.
As we were speaking, a small bird darted above our heads. It hovered near a branch hanging over the street. It flitted its wings nervously. It wore a drab olive coat and white eye-liner.
“That’s it—that’s a ruby-crowned kinglet!” I said.
Another joined it, and the boy and I stood in the middle of the road watching these birds frolic among the leaves.
Jean Pierre de Caussade, a 17th century French priest, wrote about receiving what he called the “sacrament of the present moment.” He meant that each moment is charged with God’s presence, that each moment is a vehicle of grace. It’s a spirituality I try to practice, especially in those moments when the Presence isn’t so obvious—washing the dishes comes to mind.
But sometimes it is. Sometimes when you need grace the most—when a raging pandemic and rancorous politics, for instance, squeeze all peace from your spirit—sometimes that sacrament is clear, obvious.
Like when your memory of a kinglet seems to summon one, and you and your son watch grace flit freely above your heads.
The Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens is associate professor of Christian spirituality and ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and teaches courses in the MDiv, Doctor of Ministry, and Continuing Education programs. Before coming to PTS he served urban and rural churches for eight years in North Carolina as co-pastor with his wife, Ginger. He has written multiple books including The Shape of Participation: A Theology of Church Practices which was called “this decades best work in ecclesiology” by The Christian Century. His latest work is Threshold of Discovery: A Field Guide to Spirituality in Midlife (Church Publishing Inc., 2019).