At prayer-time at L’Arche this Thursday, we passed a candle around the table, as is our custom. The reflection question was posed to us was:  “How are you feeling?”

Such a simple, ordinary question. Yet in that moment, I saw how powerful that simple inquiry could be.

To check in with myself, asking, “How am I really feeling? What is really true for me, inside?” To check in with others, asking, “How are you?” and really listening to the answer…these are acts of love.

Me & Leo*, on Retreat with L’Arche

At L’Arche, we keep our meditations simple. That said, what arises from those simple questions is astonishing. It’s “simplicity on the far side of complexity,” in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes.

And people share from their hearts. Yes, we are only human; we hold some things to ourselves. But I am amazed by how we let one another in. This kind of trust cannot be demanded; it must be earned.

When I am at a loss for words, I can hold the candle for a moment of quiet before passing it along. There are hurts and joys too deep for words, and when I have felt them I have simply held the light…which I believe is, in itself, a form of prayer.


Leo*, seated across the table, looks over at me before he prays. He’s had a rough couple of weeks. Assistants he treasured have moved, and Gene, his housemate and friend of more than twenty years has passed away. And yet when Leo looks up at me, I can see that healing has begun, and, miraculously, that I am a part of that healing.

“Well,” Leo begins. “I’m…well, I’m doin’ all right. Before…but right now…I’m all right.”

He meets my eyes again as he says his last words, and I can feel gratitude rising within me. Somehow, I can tell that my presence is a part of his being ‘all right’. And there is wisdom in his focus: the sufficiency of the present moment.

I pray to be wise enough to share that focus; it’s a constant effort. Fears and anxieties about the future too often crowd my thoughts; all I know is to gracefully bring myself back to what is present.

After supper, Leo and I head upstairs to read together. We’ve been reading the same book for over two years, an 860+ page biography of Stephen A. Douglas. We are currently on page 680, and I have begun to believe that we may actually finish it.

Moreover, I have come to believe that our time matters to Leo; that the regular reading is more than listening to historical facts. I have come to believe that it is listening to reassurance; to the fact that I want to spend time with him; to the fact that he is my friend.


As I rose to leave Leo’s room, I glimpsed an image of Gene. Leo had tucked Gene’s memorial card into the wallet he wears around his neck. And I thought of how, on the day Gene died, I came to sit with Leo. There was no need to ask how Leo was feeling; anger and anxiety were writ large across his face.

He told me over and over, “I’m not upset about Eugene. I’m upset about something else.” Deep down, of course, I knew that he was upset about Gene, more upset than he was willing to admit.

That day was difficult. I wanted so badly to comfort Leo, and yet I knew that he was not at a place to receive words of comfort. He seemed like a stranger, lost in hurt. So I spoke little, and simply let myself be present to his pain.

As I left I said, “Leo, I’m here. If you need someone to listen, I’m always here.” He just nodded, but before I left, he let me hug him.


On Thursday night, after our reading, Leo showed me his new cell phone. He’s inherited Gene’s phone, with a new number, and Leo made sure I copied it down. And when I opened his phone to enter my number, I realized that, thanks to Gene, it was already there. Already on speed dial, in fact.

It brought tears to my eyes, how someone who has died can stay alive; how someone who loved you can keep giving you gifts even after they’ve gone. Though there’s still sadness at Gene’s passing, there’s sufficiency in the present moment.

That’s the image of grace I’m carrying with me this week.

Grace:  getting ready to add your name and make your mark, and realizing that you’ve already made it…on the hearts of those who love you.


What does grace look like for you this week? Tell me in the comments!

*Names have been changed.

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  1. Harriet Cabelly September 19, 2011 at 3:33 PM - Reply

    Beautifully poignant piece.
    I love the line,” So I spoke little, and simply let myself be present to his pain.” That is a powerful statement. So often that’s all we can do is sit quietly and be open and present to their pain. It’s not the words we say but rather being with them in their time of sadness and pain. We can be their vessel in which we hold their pain. (I once heard that metaphor and I love it; it’s a real visual for me.) To know someone can withstand and hold our pain is a great source of comfort. It cannot be taken away with words but the comfort and understanding one gets from the sincere and complete presence of another is tremendous.
    You truly exemplify this. That is why you are blessed with grace from all of these wonderful people at L’Arche.

    • Caroline McGraw September 19, 2011 at 7:18 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Harriet! Your comments & sharings have been another source of grace for me.
      Being a vessel…yes.

  2. Brooke (Books Distilled) September 19, 2011 at 3:58 PM - Reply

    Grace for me this week looks like trusting in God that things will be okay. At church yesterday the sermon was about the Israelites in the desert, complaining that they were going to die of starvation (after God had brought them out of slavery approximately five minutes previously…). I thought how I am the same way: how quickly I forget what God has already done for me, in the face of present trials. I pray for the grace to trust that God will work His will, as He has always done.

    • Caroline McGraw September 19, 2011 at 7:21 PM - Reply

      Love it!
      It also reminds me of how, more than once, you’ve told me that those beautiful words of promise in Jeremiah (“For I know the plans I have for you…”) were spoken to a people in exile.

  3. Katie Paquette September 19, 2011 at 4:09 PM - Reply

    Loved this post Caroline. Thanks for sharing. I hope all is well!

  4. Tara September 19, 2011 at 6:21 PM - Reply

    This is so beautiful. I’m at a loss for additional words.

    • Caroline McGraw September 19, 2011 at 7:22 PM - Reply

      And that is the best comment I could hope to receive. 🙂 Thank you, Tara!

  5. Allison October 11, 2011 at 1:57 PM - Reply

    Oh Caroline, I just re-read this post and it was exactly what I needed this morning. I am full of anxiety and nervousness as my PET scan approaches, and I needed to be reminded of “the sufficiency of the present moment.” My son at my side, light streaming through the window, good music in the background. Yes, this moment is more than sufficient. And it is these moments that carry us through the difficult ones. Thank you.

    • Caroline McGraw October 11, 2011 at 6:45 PM - Reply

      I’m so glad ~ I’m thinking of (and praying for) you as your PET scan approaches, my dear.

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