From the preface...
The seed for this “Moments of Grace” collection at Rockville United Church was planted through email exchanges between Duncan Newcomer and Miriam Jackson in November, 2008. Miriam wrote about a moment of grace she enjoyed the evening after the Tents of Hope festival on the Mall (described in these pages). Duncan replied that he would love for members of the congregation to share such privileged experiences and that perhaps we could put them together in a book. It doesn’t take long for a good idea to germinate.
Miriam shared the idea with Carroll and together they led an adult seminar to further explore "moments of grace" with other RUCer's. When Duncan asked them to lead a worship service together, another opportunity arose to communicate some grace-filled moments with the whole congregation.
Out of that has come a "Growing in Grace" art project with all grade levels of the church school and our Festival of Grace on Palm Sunday, 2009—a time for further sharing and celebration as we started Holy Week. What all this illustrates is that the Spirit of Grace and Truth is alive and well in our Beloved Community of Faith. Our "offerings" in this booklet are a way of expressing our gratitude to the Giver of Grace and one another. Where do we go from here? Only openness to the Holy Spirit and time will tell.
Miriam Hope Jackson and Carroll Saussy
Open your Mind; Open your Heart - Carroll Saussy
My Roman Catholic school upbringing included fourteen years in a small convent school—kindergarten, pre-primary and twelve grades, graduating in a class of twenty-six. In many ways the nuns were not only my teachers but spiritual guides and role models who introduced me to prayer and meditation at an early age. Everyone called the nuns “Mother”, and indeed they often were “other mothers.” Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to Mary his mother pervaded the atmosphere. Vocal prayer, chapel services, the singing of hymns, novenas; advent, Lenten and Mary’s month of May practices; religious art in every classroom, statues on the corridors and in the study halls—devotional invitations were everywhere. We started and ended each class period with prayer. Our devotion included mission outreach, both local and global, always wanting to spread God’ love throughout the world. There were Sacred Heart on all continents, and we adopted schools in third world countries (although we didn’t use that description) and supported them through fund raising projects, written communication, and care packages.
The image of Jesus with light radiating in a halo around his head, his heart enflamed, became an indelible image in my imagination. In my growing up years, whenever I visited a church, I looked first for a statue or painting of the Sacred Heart, and immediately felt at home. While the art itself lost its appeal many years ago, the imprint of that devotion has remained throughout my adult life. It is against this background that I read the lyrics of John Astin’s melody “Hold the World in Light” from his CD Remembrance.
Open your heart,
let it be filled with light.
Open your mind
Let it be filled with light.
For there’s a world
waiting to heal,
to feel your love.
So share your love,
Share it with all.
Can you hear the call?
The words remain a wonderful focusing prayer, bringing lovely moments of grace.
A reading from Thomas Merton, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander
Since Thomas Merton’s piece was an inspiration for this collection, we start with it. On an ordinary day in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas Merton had an extraordinary insight, truly a moment of grace, while simply out on the street.
He writes: “Standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream…I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.
Duncan Newcomer’s Appreciation
of William Butler Yeats Poem
I recall reading that when Thomas Merton received his ordination as a monk he experienced a streaming of joy throughout his body. I am reminded of that in this section of Yeats’ poem, “Vacillation IV”. One of my own hopes in faith is that such an embodied spiritual experience be mine as well.
My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.