One of my earliest recollections of the gift of grace in my life was an interaction I shared with Sister Catherine, my 1st grade teacher. I loved Sister Catherine in an all-encompassing way.
One day, we were discussing names and she said to me that my given name, Karen, was the Danish derivative of her chosen name, Catherine. She told me that our names mean ‘purity’.
I was only 6 years old, but the feeling of expansion and the sense of space I experienced in that moment remains with me today.
She joined with me in likeness, through our mutual purity — hers chosen, mine given — and gave to me the gift of grace.
It’s not something that can be planned.
It can be desired, but even the desire for a moment of grace seems to make it elusive.
Early memories of grace
I have other early memories of grace entering my life. In another particular instance I was the instrument through which grace moved.
I would frequently approach Sister Catherine’s desk and say to her, ‘I have a surprise for you Sr’. She would say, ‘have you?’, and I would say, ‘Yes! Bend your head down’.
As she would do so, I would kiss her on her beautiful, veiled head. She always feigned surprise and always seemed delighted. In return, she would offer me a ‘Check em Quick’ throat lozenge, and we would both be happy and smiling.
Of course it wasn’t a calculated offer on my part — I truly loved kissing her head. But the reciprocity seemed natural coming from her, and so I was gifted with a sweet.
I say a ‘sweet’ but I truly wonder if any other 6-year-old would have liked them: little black liquorice and peppermint pillows the size of a watch battery, salty, sweet and minty all at once. But I loved them because of what they represented between us: a shared moment of grace.
On reflection, it seems I had a habit of kissing gentle, giving people as a child.
My mother had taken me to our beloved family physician for my booster shot prior to me starting school. Dr Sheehan had barely completed giving me the injection when I bounced up, threw my arms around him, and gave him a kiss.
One of his daughters was present that day. Heaven only knows who this act of grace was for. Maybe to show a daughter how highly other children regarded her father. Or possibly just some small return for all the kindness and selflessness he himself had shown to others. It may have even been a simple moment of pride for my lovely mother.
Either way, one thing is certain: it was a wonderful moment of grace as we were all filled with joy at its coming.
Sister Catherine’s adviceOn another occasion involving Sister Catherine, she paid me a compliment and I must have done what many people do, and said, ‘No, I’m not’ or ‘No, I don’t’, thinking it was a humble response. But she simply said in reply, ‘when someone pays you a compliment you say “Thankyou”’.
Words I’ve never forgotten.
On this occasion, not only was it a moment of grace, but also a lesson in graciousness.
There are so many other poignant moments I can recall in my year with Sister Catherine. Some involving visions of my future. Others, simple, yet creative lessons about nature.
All truly moments of grace. None planned. All life-affirming and affecting.
Was I always intended to meet this gracious lady? Or was she simply an instrument of grace playing in my life?
Finding grace in our lives
No one can really tell us what grace is, or how it moves in our lives.
It’s for us to know it when it comes to us, or through us. Not to try to repeat it, but to witness its coming, to honour it, and to be grateful for its presence in our lives.
It’s difficult in these times we’re living in to truly feel grace touching our hearts. We’re so full of positive thinking, political correctness, and fear of accountability or even litigation, that everything has become overly controlled.
People everywhere seem driven by personal, political or bureaucratic influences. So much so, that grace is having difficulty finding avenues of expression in our lives.
We need to clear some space in ourselves and in our lives to welcome grace in.
So I offer this blessing to you:
May you recognise it,
And be grateful for it with every fibre of your being.
With all my love
Image credit: Omer Unlu