This column, Barefoot & Preaching, is also published biweekly in print by The Prairie Messenger.

Tracing the Shape of the Dark

Tracing the Shape of the Dark

My sister had an old dead tree tattooed on her arm. She always meant to have dark clouds filled in behind it, but she didn’t get the chance. I asked her why a dead tree and not a living one; she said it was because she had seen the dark and the dead and gotten through it. And now, her death has become the shape of the dark for me.

It isn’t that I am a stranger to darkness. But each difficult circumstance and undesirable situation in my life invites me to get acquainted with a new corner of darkness, each with a different shape, a new texture, a strange depth. It is the wandering around in the dark I do not like.  I resist the pain of loss, the fear of never seeing light again, the weight of carrying the darkness with me. And I am tracing out the shape of the darkness while I read bedtime stories and help with math homework. Wandering in the dark is exhausting.

So much pain comes from my resistance to the dark. I want a world where all the days are warm and sunny, where our family life is mostly peaceful and awesome, where children die after their parents, and death comes peacefully in sleep after a life lived well and long.  Wind and rain, tired kids and imperfect parents, early and violent death – all of it gets in the way of my perfect plans.

I want to run away from my life in an impossible attempt to outrun the dark. As if it would be possible to escape suffering by escaping joy. In my unimaginable reality, the tears fall at the same time that my littlest giggles uncontrollably at my fake sleeping on her pillow. Hearings happen while the clouds dance across the sky and birds are singing. She isn’t here and I can see her in the faces of her children.

Lying at the bottom of this unfamiliar pit of grief, I feel unanchored. The other half of my twin soul is missing, not gone but far away. Where there was always someone holding my hand, there is an empty space. When I push, she does not push back. The floor is rough and the air is dense.  There are other people in the pit with me, tracing their own grief, and still others standing around the pit. The dark feels lonely, and I am not alone.

The dark is eerily quiet and deafening at the same time. It is unsettling and unpredictable. Mostly it is heavy, and I do not want to set it down any more than I want to carry it forever.  My feet are itchy, and the dark is coming out of me as much as it surrounds.

I do not get to choose the dark, neither its arrival nor its shape. I wish I knew a God that prevented darkness, instead of One that enters into it.  And I am shocked by the ways that God has been preparing me for tracing darkness: in asking for help, in letting myself be carried, in silence, and in waiting for resurrection. I am having difficulty feeling God at all these days, and looking back over my life I can see the Spirit tracing a way through the history of my darkness. Perhaps God is in my present in a way I will only see in the future?

At Abbie’s funeral, I sang Psalm 16: “You have shown me the path of life, and lead me to joy forever.” It was a prayer for the future, rather than one felt fully in the present. I was so angry with God, so stunned by Divine silence, that I had difficulty saying the words to God.  But I found cracks of light in praying them with her as a start. She has shown me and continues to remind me that the path of life goes through darkness and through death.

Abbie had death tattooed on her arm and her laughter and joy in living was a constant rebellion against its power.  Her life and her death contained more difficulty than we imagined. Still she walked, tracing her way through the darkness, into a beautiful life. Her shape remains in the dark. Help me to trace you in the dark, that I might find you living with me still.


Tracing the Shape of the Dark

My sister had an old dead tree tattooed on her arm. She always meant to have dark clouds filled in behind it, but she didn’t get the chance. I asked her why a dead tree and not a living one; she said it was because she had seen the dark and the dead and gotten through...

An Obituary for my Sister…

With broken hearts, our family shares that Abbie Diana Speir was taken from us at her home in Yellow Grass on April 20, 2017 at the age of 33. Abbie was born at Royal University Hospital on September 29, 1983. She spent her school years in Elrose, loving her friends...

Grace enough for today – and for me

(Photo Credit: Andrea Carol) One of the greatest gifts of living in a cold prairie climate is that it gets cold enough for hoarfrost.  It is the frozen form of dew, an icy proof of the movement of moisture even on such cold mornings.  Breathtakingly beautiful, I would...

A people wandering still

Photo Credit: Katherine Seibert I wandered out into the darkness the other night, wrapped in a thick fog.  I could see about three car lengths in front of me on the asphalt, and then a wall of white, reflecting my headlights back at me.  The brightness designed to...

On Being Barefoot…

Before the burning bush, God asks Moses to take off his sandals, to notice and reverence that he walks on holy land. This holy land continues to burn before me, before us, signaling God’s presence before we arrived rather than because we did. This life we are living was holy before we existed in it. This land and creation we call home is the first book of revelation, God’s love letter to us, bearing witness to the Creator of it all.Our lives and the moments that make them up are the stuff of sainthood, our invitations to participate in Divine life to be swallowed up and fulfilled by God. At the grocery store, in the false solitude of our cars and commutes, in our laundry rooms, and over text messages. My shoes run the risk of “protecting” me from the sacredness of this naked moment. And how I love shoes, and how my sensitive toes resist the prickles of grass and the mess of sand. But barefoot is how my spirituality works, daring to live an embodied and earthy love of Jesus who took on flesh. I’m wandering through this life, yearning to let go of my shoes, to walk reverently and with deep attention to what passes under my feet and to what isn’t yet my path. Barefoot is how I write, how I speak, how I work. Experience shored up against an insatiable thirst for knowledge; direct honesty honed by sensitivity; and vulnerability chained to a commitment to competency. And an unapologetically barefoot tendency to speak it as I feel it, which leads me to…

…and Preaching

I’m a preacher without a pulpit, with words that burn until they are spoken ~ aloud or on a page.

My ministry is one of colliding words and ideas, reaching out to find a connection with God’s amazing people.

The world seems to me to be spilling over with grace and we seem to be people who, all too quickly forget that all of this is pure gift.

When I’m driving, eating, visiting, resting, cleaning, working, playing, and almost everything else, I’m frequently stunned by the pure miracle of what simply is.

It’s not all promised joy and ease, but it is all presenced and remembered by the One who gives it. And I can’t stop talking about it, proclaiming it, preaching this good news that we have not been forgotten or forsaken in any moment of this life.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, my words seem to be given to encourage and inspire. In a world where women and girls are still too-often silenced or secondary, I’m barefoot and preaching because my soul won’t rest any other way. If my words can be a gift to you, then that is a gift for me.

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