Small Graces.

I allowed myself a day to mope. Not to grieve: I suspect that will be a much longer process.

I did what I often do when my heart is troubled: I drove.  I drove one of my usual haunts in time of despair or self-doubt — Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay south to Santa Cruz.  (The section from Half Moon Bay to San Francisco is far too developed for it to be soothing to my soul.)  I drove it the complete length and then, in an unusual move for me, drove it back (instead of going over the hill on Highway 17).  (I suspect that was because I did not have time to fulfill my real wish, to drive to Monterey and south over Big Sur. ) I am a creature of the sea:  the sound of the waves and the smell of the spray heals me in a way that few other things do. I stopped several times along the way (including a lengthy stop at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz) just to … be.

And as I drove, I listened (and sang along with, loudly) my current mix tapes, which are entitled “Comfort Food 1” and “Comfort Food 2.”*  They contain music which, for various reasons means a lot to me.

And as I drove, it occurred to me: for someone who is having such struggles with faith, with the notion of a loving and merciful God, I sure do have a lot of religious music** in my iTunes library.

There are traditional hymns:  “Simple Gifts” and “Amazing Grace” sung by Judy Collins; “River of Babylon” by Sublime; “Down to the River to Pray” by Alison Krauss; and my very favorite, the Cat Stevens version of “Morning Has Broken.” (I am still seeking for versions I like of “Thou Art My Vision” and “Seek Ye First”.)   There are songs which are “secular” which nonetheless use explicitly Christian language and imagery: “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister, or “Travelin’ Thru” by Dolly Parton.***  There are songs which include very strong spiritual elements: “Prince of Darkness” by the Indigo Girls or “Asking Us To Dance” by Kathy Mattea. Not to mention the entire soundtrack to “Godspell,” and a couple of songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  And these are just examples.

Maybe I have them because I am seeking… something I once had but lost.

I have been looking for God for a long time now.  It occurred to me on that empty, lonely stretch of Highway 1 today that maybe I am looking in the wrong places.

I keep waiting for the epiphanies, the miracles (usually involving someone else, which is never a good thing).  I am waiting for the tongue of fire in the upper room, the bolt of lightning on the road to Damascus.

But maybe what I need to understand is God in the small graces, in the still small voice.  The grace of the faces of my children, and the voices of my friends.  Of the realization that there are people out there who love me and who will actually care what happens in my life — and whose lives I care about, too.  That there are people who respect me for who I am, not ignore me because of what I am not.

Of the sea and the birds and the sky at sunset.  Of golden poppies in the spring and crepe myrtle in the summer and glorious leaves in the fall.  Of autumn and winter nights that close around me like a comfortable blanket.

Of the world around me.  Of creation.

Maybe those aren’t such small graces, after all.

* If you are at all interested, the playlists can be found here.
** There is no “Contemporary Christian” music there, for the simple reason that I have yet to find any at all that I like.
 *** I am uncertain how to classify “Hallelujah,” written by Leonard Cohen and sung by Rufus Wainwright.  Yes, Cohen used a lot of Biblical imagery, but it seems to me for another purpose entirely.

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3 Responses to Small Graces.

  1. DataGoddess says:

    I love Christian music, probably a remnant of my schooling and singing in the church choir for so long. I've identified as agnostic for a long time, but some songs can still bring me to tears. Dan thinks I'm nuts, but he wasn't raised as immersed in Christian culture as I was.

    One of the reasons I lost my faith was the god I was always told about just didn't make sense to my heart or my soul. I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran (one of the most conservative Protestant denominations out there) and what I saw of organized religion just never intersected with what they taught of Christ. I kept waiting for the grand revelation, the thing that my classmates seemed to believe but that just didn't shine through to their lives – it was something they took out on Sunday and then put back in the box when they were done.

    I think one of the reasons I am so curious about the first few centuries, as the Christian church spread and grew is that I want to understand where it all went wrong, because I look at what the church has taught since then and I try to reconcile it to the Gospels and it just doesn't fit.

    Probably way more than you ever wanted to know about my religious leanings 😉

    One thing I always remember about other people and how they think of me is usually how the filters they see me through are theirs and not mine. The only person who I have to satisfy about how I live my life is *me*, and I choose who else's opinion I consider important and whose I don't. I can't do jack about the people who dislike me, or even don't think of me (oh, NOES!! ;-), but the one person who has to live with what and who I am is me, so that's the person who's opinion matters the most. And the people I gather around me are those who see me for who I am and still want to be around (and who I still want to have around).

    I know it's hard to reach out when you're not sure the other person's hand will be there. It takes a leap of faith, which isn't easy.

  2. dolffun says:

    I enjoy much of the music you have on your playlist. Two albums you might enjoy that you haven't included are Paul Winter's “Missa Gaia/Earth Mass”, and Shaina Noll's “Songs for the Inner Child”. Also, if you like gospel music, you might like some of the songs on Shirley Ceaser's greatest hits.

    Thank you for your terrific, perfect work and “can do” attitude while working at the Census. It was a pleasure to work with you.

    I look forward to seeing you soon and hearing more about your spiritual explorations.

    Take care,


  3. Pat Greene says:

    Beth — It was lovely working with you, too.

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