The Divine in the Details


Glimpses of God in Everyday Life

By Nancy Jo Sullivan

Loyola Press, 2012

112 pages, $12.95

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Nancy Jo Sullivan has faced the big stuff in life, from the end of a marriage to raising — and later losing — a child with special needs.

But it was the little stuff — what she calls “small mercies” — that saw her through the sadness and softened the sharp edges of grief.

In this slim volume of short essays written in a warm, engaging style, Sullivan talks about her losses and how she faced them by opening herself to God’s presence in all manner of places and people.

She begins with her experience of the Divine in Minnesota’s Cathedral of St. Paul, where, as a young mother, she would take her three daughters on rainy days and where she still goes to sink into the stillness. There, she writes, she finds it easy to encounter God amid the mosaics, gilded ceilings and statues. Yet, she says, she knows God is not just to be found in magnificent churches. “The years have taught me that the Lord’s presence is easily accessed in the places and faces that define our daily lives. Indeed, the most precious revelations of God’s love are often hidden in the ordinary moments that shape our days.”

For Sullivan, those moments can occur in a garden or the grocery store, but most often they are shaped by the people she encounters. In “The Divine Touch,” for example, she tells how, as she was walking her disabled daughter in a stroller one morning, a neighbor whose twin daughters were blind asked if her girls could touch the child’s face, hair and hands. The woman then began to talk about the unexpected blessings she had encountered after the birth of her daughters. “In adversity,” she told Sullivan, “we must be alert, for God will find a way, somehow, to touch us.”

Sullivan’s stories demonstrate that she not only has been paying attention to moments of grace, but has opened herself to them. In “Smoothies,” she reflects on the time her daughters urged her to try something new at a coffee shop and how she left her comfort zone by ordering a smoothie instead of her usual cup of steamed milk with cinnamon sprinkles. Pleasantly surprised by what she had been missing, she was inspired to try other new drinks at the coffee shop and to check her daily routines, lest they prevent her from making potentially enriching changes.

Among the most poignant of her essays are those that recall her daughter Sarah, who was born with Down syndrome and died at the age of 23. In these, Sullivan writes convincingly of the experience of grief and, in sharing how she handled it, offers hope to those suffering similar losses.

Sullivan ends each of her stories with “Receive the Mercies,” suggestions for prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In “Smoothies,” for example, she suggests praying not to become set in one’s ways, fasting from a rigid lifestyle by being open to new adventures, and giving the alms of flexibility to loved ones.

In the book’s conclusion, Sullivan says she is aware some readers may be uncomfortable that she is a divorced Catholic. It is a mere postscript to other references to the end of her marriage, and she leaves readers to decide what they will about her circumstances. Although she does not go into extensive detail about her divorce, she writes respectfully of her former husband and their relationship.

Sullivan nicely blends humor and pathos in this book, and readers who are struggling with loss or change will find it to be a comforting and helpful companion on the journey of life.

Register correspondent Judy Roberts writes from Graytown, Ohio.