Unexpected Grace

Her book was exiled to the $0.25 shelf of an used bookstore in the States. It was in Portuguese and it is very rare to find anything in this language. The price is symbolic. It was an unexpected gift for me. I bought it but it never got it what it deserved. It sat on my shelves for almost 8 years. Recently, I decided to read it.

I discovered later that this author* is highly esteemed in the Brazilian literary culture. Books and thesis have been written about her. She never considered herself as a professional writer. Her priorities were being mother, friend, and common observer. Her ordinariness provided her with an unique outlook of life. She had the gift to be amazed with the common things of life. She revealed her secret. She never felt at home where she was. She was of Jewish extraction living in a predominantly Catholic nation. She was born in Lithuania but the only home she knew since she was a toddler was Brazil. All these life experiences helped her maintain an outsider perspective while being deeply engaged in her world. It sounds like the spiritual vocation of a Christian. We live in this world and yet we don’t belong to it. This could be something devastating or beautiful. It really depends on one thing. This author, despite being a non-religious person, wrote extensively about grace. In fact, most academics noted this trait about her. This is why I am writing about her here. Perhaps it is not necessary for me to say so much about the author but nevertheless she deserves the recognition. I want my posts to be a portrait of people. In this case, she would be a portrait of the power of grace. It does not limit itself to a certain people or religious groups. God freely pours His grace to all. One of things she mentioned about grace is that it comes to us in an unexpected manner. It seems appropriate that I am reminded about this peculiarity of this divine gift through a book bought on the $0.25 shelf.

We use the word, “grace” a little bit too freely. We have forgotten that we can only use this word accompanied by awe and wonder. Sometimes some churches think that they have ownership of grace because they have defined it. However, what they have is a watered down version of it which does not deserve its name. Grace remains free because it belongs to God. I remember trying to explain its meaning to a group of teenagers. I could see in their faces that my explanation was empty. They were kind about it. I knew that I failed. I wanted it to be refreshing and life-giving but the words could not do any justice. It was refreshing to read about a grace from an author who was not religious. She had a simpler idea of grace. Perhaps it was purer and perhaps truer to the biblical notion. She described it as a moment where everything becomes crystal clear and harmonious so much so that it touches the depth of our souls and leaves us wondering about life itself. She used the Annunciation as an example. I can think of another one: the Transfiguration. In both events, the people who experienced it were willing to have a radical change in their lives. This is what grace does; it gives us the power to change.

There is really nothing more simple and ordinary than a letter written to a stranger. Our children and some adults in Florida have been corresponding with each other. Often times, both parties tell us that they don’t where to start. Consequently, the letters are written in the simplest manner. Nothing special or dramatic is revealed. Everything is very basic. This was the kind of letter I read to Wanderson. It was really the first time I ever read a letter to him. Despite its spartan content, the sincere and genuine concern was obvious. I asked him if he wanted to write a reply. He nodded to say yes. Then he confessed that he had been sniffing paint thinner all day and he was not in the right frame of mind to compose a letter. It was an unnecessary confession. He is always sniffing paint thinner. It is almost as if he has a bottle of this dreadful chemical surgically attached to him. He promised, however, that he will not use anything the next day so that he could write the letter with a clear mind. We left it at that. About fifteen minutes later, he came back with a card in his hand and a receipt. He spend half of the money that he had kept aside for drugs to buy a card for this woman who wrote to him. He said that it was only right that he gave her something special since she took the time to write to him. For today, Wanderson found something better to do with his money than using for drugs.

No one told him to do this. He had the receipt in his hand to show me that he did not steal the card. He is not the kind to steal or engage in any criminal activities. The other children were watching. Alex who has received several letters asked him how much the card cost. He said that maybe he would buy some to write to the people as well. I did not say anything. There was really nothing to say. Maybe some would not understand what just happened because nothing really did happen. Everything that occurred was something ordinary. We buy cards to send to people without thinking about it. For us, it is the most ordinary thing. In Wanderson’s case, it was something different. He had experienced grace which opened his eyes to see that there was something much better than drugs. He decided to forego a few hours of chemical induced stupor for the sake of an ordinary woman who took the time to write to him. We did not tell him what to do. It was just simply grace in action. For a moment through ordinary means, Wanderson saw a harmonious life being offered to him instead of the drug-induced chaos. He decided to grab hold of it. Even though it may be for just a moment but it is still powerful. It is a gracious moment and it has the power to help a person to take a step towards transformation.


*The author’s name is Clarice Lispector


2 thoughts on “Unexpected Grace

  1. What an amazing day for Wanderson; for him to have such a powerful experience (as small as it might seem to us) and then for him to go out of his “ordinary zone” to give back. I am very moved by this story. Thank you for sharing it, Fr. Stephen.

  2. Your description of grace so fits my understand of the experience of “burning hearts” the disciples had on the road to Emmaus. How fitting it was to read this this week!! It seems that the gift of Christ can allow us to see simple ephipnanies like Waterson’s as just that- epiphanies that shine like a candle in the midst of the refuse- signs of God at work in the ordinary. SO grateful that you are there!

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