Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames
November 2002

Picture this. Dinner is finally ready. Our older children have been asked twice to join us at the table. There is much shuffling of rapidly growing feet, arms and legs. The toddler is showing some serious resistance to being put in the high chair. He wants dinner now. His chair is strategically placed close to the less exasperated parent. We are ready to say grace. At our house it goes like this:

Provider of all thank you for the food before us
We acknowledge the sacrifices necessary to bring it to our table
We thank you for the gift of life, and ask your blessings on all at our table.

 We say grace to make a deliberate expression of gratitude for our food and each other. We also use it to express our desire to continue to be ‘blessed’ with good health and good fortune. The grace is said to the Earth, sun and rain, the soil that nurtures our food, animals used to provide us with meat and the people that raise the food. 

The ritual begins with the holding of your neighbor’s hand. The two older children are placed around the table in such a manner as to prevent each from having to hold the other’s hand. That could lead to dinner-time unrest. Meanwhile, the parents long to hold each other’s hand but are now separated by their offspring.  

The grace begins, we’ve used the same one for over ten years. “Provider of all thank you for the food before us”….the toddler screams, yanks his hands away from his flanking family members. He wants to eat. If there was a mood, it’s lost. In spite of this we continue with our grace, we always do. “we acknowledge the sacrifices necessary to bring it to our table….” It’s our ritual. It gives order to our unpredictable world. Sometimes it helps remind me of all I have to be grateful for, most of the time however it marks the beginning of our shared meal. The meal we insist on sharing with each other. Whether we like it or not. 

My talk is entitled, Grace in chaos. When I thought about my title it occurred to me that what we have at home is not chaos. In fact it’s quite the opposite. It is organized and predictable. Mark works in Des Moines on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Emma has math facts for homework on Tuesday night, choir for Claire is on Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons are reserved for scouts. The bus leaves at 7:15 and returns at 3:50, five days a week. Piano lessons on Saturdays. We attend the Fellowship on Sundays and recycling occurs on the second Tuesday of every month. This is not chaos, this is order! It’s hard to find grace in that order. Order is rigid and unyielding to the unexpected. I think Grace lives in those moments between the expected. It lies there, waiting to be acknowledged, silent and patient.

I take in grace but not often enough. Grace is the night sky when you’re taking out the garbage. It remains there in all its starry glory, waiting for you to put down the lid to the g arbage can and just look up. It’s the smell of autumn leaves as they begin to rot, a smell you remember from your child hood and it reminds you of new clothes, a new school year, all your great expectations as a youth. It is the silent snow with its large white flakes against the night sky falling while you sleep, oblivious.  

“We thank you for the gift of life….” 

I have found grace in my children. Baby wisdom. The look a newborn gives you as he sees you for the first time. Have you had the privilege of seeing that first real look? Oh, my, what is that but grace? The searching eyes of this wet, tiny human seem to speak of ages of humanity’s endless new beginnings. Grace comes too, in the look on your child’s face at the school concert as she searches the audience for your face. She lights up when she finally finds you, first relieved then proud. No doubt this reaction is transient, one that will be hard to elicit in a few years. This makes it all the more precious. And all I had to do was to be there for her.

I have found grace in my friends. Friends, in whose company I can find relief. These are people with how you can be yourself and they love you anyway. Those kinds of friends are rare in my life and spending time with them feels as though I’m drinking after a long thirst.  

I find grace here at the fellowship too. Grace is here in the way we care for one another. It’s what we share with each other. It’s the milestones that lessen our grief when shared. I don’t know why that’s true but I know it is and I don’t want to analyze it. It’s just the right music that can touch us when we least expect it. You can tell when the congregation doesn’t know if it should applaud or savor the moment. This place is one of those few that allows for deliberate moments of grace. We’ve learned to trust one another, this place is safe and because of that we can seek grace and are open to receive it. We’ve learned that we can give it to each other and be twice blessed. 

Grace happens in those moments between the order between all that we have planned. I’m not ready to give up order in hopes of finding greater grace. But perhaps a deeper look into those moments between could yield gifts that have always been there, waiting. In the words of Rev. Kate Rohde, “Grace comes in all those moments that life gives us gifts, not because we deserve them but because we are. “ Back at the dinner table, grace is almost said, 

“..and ask your blessing on all at our table.”

The toddler quietly and with the greatest of sincerity, puts his hands out to be held by his sister and his father. He makes the circle complete. He has brought grace to the table.