Starting Point
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Issue Date:  October 15, 2004

Starting Point


“Mark,” my grandmother told me when, with the help of her nursing assistant, she got up from her chair to ready herself for bed, “when you say your prayers, the only thing you have to say is, ‘Thank you.’ ”

When my grandmother taught me how to pray, she was crippled from osteoporosis and had been homebound for years. Without complaining, she spent long days and nights riding the ebb and flow of her maladies. Her spirit was gentle, serene and always seemed accepting of the cross God asked her to carry. What faith, I marveled.

Hers was a simple life lived in an extraordinary and contemplative way. Widowed at the age of 38, she raised three children alone. Work, family and parish life balanced her days, providing a rhythm that she humbly embraced. Being attuned to the grace hidden in the mundane, she was grateful for the ordinary. There was a time to work and a time to rest. A time for company and a time for solitude. A time for gaiety and a time for prayer. A time for health, and perhaps, a time for infirmity.

And when the day was done, no matter what it brought, there were reasons to say, “Thank you.”

Remaining thankful even during her darkest days required surrendering fully to the puzzling demands of God and trusting in the unfathomable nature of divine love. My grandmother allowed God to accompany her everywhere and understood deeply, in every ache and pain, that suffering can mysteriously offer an opportunity to know our Creator better.

The night Grandma taught me that prayer can be nothing more than saying, “Thank You,” I recalled a book of meditations attributing the following words to the Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is “Thank You” that will be sufficient.” Wise words indeed from Fr. Eckhart.

How often, I thought, do we turn first to our saints, prophets and mystics for insights on how to live and pray?

“Mark, when you say your prayers, the only thing you have to say is, ‘Thank you.’ ” Wisdom, grace and holiness, I was reminded, is often closer than we think.

Mark Graceffo writes from Jersey City, N.J.

National Catholic Reporter, October 15, 2004

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