As a little boy I would stand in the doorway on top of a steep flight of wooden steps looking down into the boiler room of the factory my father managed. Sometimes he was down there with the plant mechanic. Sometimes he was alone. They would peer seriously at pipes and gauges and into the boiler. They would huddle to discuss why the water pipes weren't pumping out enough heat to the rest of the factory. The age of various pieces of equipment was constantly under discussion. Whether or not my father could talk the owners into new equipment was a source of great concern.
After a Sunday or holiday dinner at my grandparents I might be allowed to accompany my grandfather on his hospital trip. He was head mechanic at the hospital where I was born. Whether it was his weekend to go to work or not, he very often was there on a Sunday afternoon. He would shovel coal into the boiler. Sometimes I was permitted to sweep up the coal dust behind him. His long handled broom was no easy thing for a little boy to manage. My grandfather invariably checked in with the sister in charge to make sure their convent was warm and heat was getting to the entire hospital.
As I have thought of those times in the many years since, I have always been reminded of the fact that this is life.
We sometimes need to take a wrench and knock it against the clogged pipes of our souls to get the waters of grace moving. We get stuck on something or other of questionable importance in our lives (do I really need that second helping of potatoes?) and lose track of the fact that it's not the food on the table that is important. It's the people around the tables in our lives. They matter more than a first helping of potatoes or vegetables. Or dessert.
When grace is flowing, we see that the children, women and men we know are the real meat of our lives. They are the ones who live the eternal presence to us each and every day. We don't have to like that fact. We do need to get out of the way. We have to stop clogging up our own works before whatever grace those people pass on to us can get through.
It is very often the people who most upset our days who provide our greatest opportunities to accept grace. We may feel like they are clogging the pipes. We may feel like they're the reason the heat of grace from our internal spiritual boiler isn't making it all the way through our bodies.
Wouldn't it be easy if that were true?
The facts aren't always that simple.
We very often don't know why we feel out of sorts. Only that something isn't right. Upon further interior exploration, it's a whole lot of things. We honestly have to work our way through circumstances which command our complete attention.
There are also occasions when we are simply drained, worn out or overloaded. In these situations grace flows through our pipes so long as we let it. There may be a leak. Sometimes a pipe breaks. The best we can do is patch it up until we get it replaced. Keep the boiler stoked, stay warm and level.
The Big Three—Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year—can seemingly exacerbate any situation. That's because we let it.
Once upon a time I stressed over all the holiday preparations. Until I reached a point where they are no longer as pressing as they were. My interior boiler is no longer over stoked. The pipes aren't rushing to the bursting point.
Hanukkah and Christmas are upon us. This is our opportunity to see how our lamps will stay lit, even if we think we don't have enough oil. We can keep our boilers stoked without overheating or freezing.
This is when we can feel the mechanics of grace flow through our souls.