When I was a child we had a book entitled, The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery by Graeme Base. It is a wonderful story of an elephant named Horace who was celebrating his 11th birthday and had invited all his animal friends. When the time came to eat, all the food was gone! The book is written in creative poetry and each page is also a puzzle/ mystery to be solved. Hidden in the pages of the book and in the drawings was the animal (100 of them) who was the culprit. After solving the mystery, the next step was to go back and find all 100! The book sat on our dining room table for a few weeks with a little packet of post-its and a pair of scissors. When a creature was found, the post-it was cut into a tiny arrow and placed into the book.
While out hiking this week (we are blessed with a good amount of woods on the property), I was reminded of these hidden critters. Every place I looked I kept finding little white and black caterpillars. As an insect-lover, my joy increased as I found each one. There were so many of them and all hidden in plain sight! It’s just a hickory tussock caterpillar, a common little fellow who is native to the US, yet it really made me think. Here they were, maybe hundreds of little caterpillars all hidden right at my feet!
Grace! Yes, as I was finding these little creatures all over the forest floor, and even along the tree bark and elsewhere, I thought of how God’s graces are hidden everywhere! We simply have to open our eyes to see them, just like the culprits in our book as children. All we have to do is open our eyes and look around. The world is full of little gifts, just waiting to be seen or little graces just waiting to be received. We can train the eyes of our hearts just as our physical eyes can be trained to find caterpillars and hidden images. We often find that once we know what we are looking for in these later cases, the objects begin to appear rapidly. The same can be true for our spiritual life.
So, that begs the question: How can we train the eyes of our hearts to spot grace? Many of the spiritual masters have given us hints as to the answer and really there is no clear method for doing this. Since we are Salesians, I must beg St. Francis de Sales for advice. In his Spiritual Directory, he speaks of the importance of staying in the presence of God. He notes that this practice is to
“prepare [us] to endure with patience and gentleness all the troubles and mortifications [we] meet [as coming from the fatherly hand of God, whose intention is] to make [us] merit [so that He may recompense us with an abundance of love]”.This one sentence, while perhaps focusing on the struggles encountered in a particular task points to the fact that the simple act of putting oneself in the presence of God can open our eyes to His gifts (even when they look like mortifications).
To go back to our first example, I learned a great deal from my brothers and father as we searched together for our hidden culprits. Jesus is an expert at seeing and identifying graces, so if you ask Him to be with you and place yourself in His presence with intentionality, this is one giant step in noticing the gifts God is sending your way at each moment. Another step would be to then thank Him each time you do see a gift or a grace. This simple act of thanksgiving is like the post-it which helps us find this grace again and better recognize it later.
Try then to place yourself in His presence, speak to Him as you do each task, and offer the task to God. This can be easy to remember when we have a hard task ahead, but is equally important for those easy or simply tasks like eating, sleeping, playing… Ask and you shall receive… why not take the Master with you to your daily duties and ask Him to show you all the hidden graces before your eyes.