Yesterday morning I was standing in the backyard with my puppy, and we heard the chirping of a bird in the trees overhead. We both looked up in unison to watch a hummingbird slowly hover his way down to about 5 feet from my face, where it remained for what seemed like a while but was probably around 10 seconds. It then buzzed itself away into the neighboring yard, leaving me in awe while the puppy started to gnaw on my shoelaces.
I immediately thought of my maternal grandparents. My grandmother, a deceptively small and quiet woman of enormous faith and perseverance, adores hummingbirds. She spends many afternoons in her kitchen outside of Washington, DC in the springtime eagerly watching her bird feeders for hummingbirds. Often times she mentions them when we chat over the phone. Yet I also thought of my grandfather, for largely different reasons encapsulated in the same hummingbird. My grandfather, an impressive man with a stature to match, has always waxed philosophical about the Christian concept of Grace, the gift from God to mature and grow regardless of whether or not we deserve it.
Yesterday morning with the hummingbird, I immediately thought of Grace in an unconventional way, which is not commonly done as a Catholic. I imagine that many people see Catholicism as a rather traditional and steady religion, without much room for the magical and the mystical. In my last few years, in which I have re-connected strongly with the Catholic faith of my upbringing and have done so in a new environment that is exhaustingly beautiful, I have found myself re-interpreting the wonderful concept of Grace.
As I said above, Grace is typically associated with a moment of divine intervention in which us sinners are able to progress and grow into better people, to overcome our typical shortcomings, to do the unexpected. As I have written about before, I tend to conceptualize the Divine as a presence way beyond our logical comprehensions, and so I have tended to interpret grace in a different, less-describable way.
One of the landmark scenes from the movie American Beauty is the one in which the teenaged couple are sitting and watching a movie that the boy took of a plastic bag as it swirls around in the wind. It’s a scene that is easy to mock and parody for its intense sincerity and authenticity. The male character, in watching his film, tears up as he describes that sometimes he gets overwhelmed by how much beauty is in the world, to the point that sometimes he feels like he could burst.
I completely understand that sentiment, and it is in a moment like that–one of breathtaking beauty–that I think I am experiencing Grace. I am not being miraculously saved from a tragedy (as in, “if I was a second earlier, I would have hit that other car!”) or even coming up with some major realization. Instead, I tend to feel Grace as if the universe and nature are reminding me of their majesty and the inseparable role that I play in it. As I experience Grace, I am floored by existence itself and have nothing to say, nothing to contribute, but instead just continue to live and be a part of the life going on around me. The hummingbird moment yesterday morning was a lightning bold of Grace. The divine danced in front of my eyes in the form of a tiny green bird, and while it lasted on a few seconds it will stay with me for years. Last spring I was on a run along the Lands End Trail in San Francisco, which overlooks the ocean and the bay, and I happened to catch two breaching whales who swam along the coast at the same pace at which I ran it. I could quite literally feel their energy from inside the water pulse through my veins as I ran, and I felt myself surging over the path as they surfaced to breath. It was another moment of inspiring Grace. Often times when I surf at dusk at Ocean Beach, on glorious sunlit nights when the violent sun sets over the ocean while the bold full moon rises over the city and the ocean churns out waves for my enjoyment, I feel meditative, baptized, and lifted by Grace.
I love moments of Grace. They get at the heart of the name of this blog: they force me to slow down and breath in the moment, the world, and the Creator that created it. And I’m uplifted to find that this feeling can and is reinforced within the structure of my traditional Catholic faith, and know that my aged and wise grandparents know exactly what I’m talking about.