Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.

Interrupting patterns for spiritual growth

Interrupting patterns for spiritual growth

Photo Credit: Michelle Parley

Interrupting is a bad habit I have been working to break for a long time, with some success and more work yet to do. And every struggle has a flip-side strength: while I need to stop speaking over people, the weakness is driven by a persistent perseverance that can also be a strength. God has been asking me lately to interrupt some of the patterns in my life that are not serving me well.

For a long time now, I have been defining spirituality as the ways we cope with reality. At the end of a rough day, I call a friend, pour a drink, eat a bag of chips or order take-out comfort food, pray, or vent to my loved ones. Each of these actions is just a single neutral action; the measure of their spiritual virtue depends on the fruit that grows from them.

I define healthy spirituality as the practices that help us to make peace with and in reality. If the phone call deepens a relationship and is a source of mutual support, it is healthy. When my whining violates my own or others’ dignity, it is damaging. If the drink or the food nourishes me and draws me back into loving the messy world, it fosters peace. And if it feeds my longing to escape and avoid the world, it pulls me further away from deep and lasting peace.

Healthy Christian spirituality is the practices that make peace with and in reality, drawing us into deeper, loving relationships with ourselves, one another, and God, and participate in the saving action of Jesus that transforms the world into the Kingdom of God. I pull out a glass of wine and sit with my kids on the floor over frozen pizza and puzzles. I listen to their stories and share that I had a hard time being kind today, but I’m trying again now and tomorrow. There is peace in the practice, and the ripple effect is that they are drawn into the practice of making peace. We are all one tiny repetition more practiced at making peace in anticipation of tomorrow. Then, hopefully we offer that peace to the next person.

We are coming up on two years into a pandemic, with exhaustion, polarization, and isolation pressing hard on our collective mental health. (And my family came into this season with three years of grief survival.) Over this long season, we have chosen and fallen into habits and patterns to cope with the reality of pandemic living. During this fourth wave, God has been subtly (and boldly) pressing for some interrupting to happen in my world.

I am interrupting my patterns with some reflection and replacement. The practices and patterns have been paying off and working to some extent for a long time, so I need to be compassionate with myself, adding to or replacing coping practices with healthier ones.

PracticePatternMaking Peace?PayoffReplacement
Watching NetflixTV has become an easy source of quiet to avoid difficult emotions, conversations.Short term quiet, but after an hour, numbs me/us out and increases grouchiness after.Avoid conflict, have quiet.Set a TV time limit and have books, games and knitting to do instead.
Reduced commitment to exerciseRemoved exercise to make space for grief work.Necessary five years ago, but is now affecting my health negatively.I dislike exercise.Get active with Marc for 10-20 mins several times a week.
Doing too much for my family.I took on too much when we moved and now I am resentful.I am tired, grouchy, resentful (even a bit contemptuous) to my family.I get to feel like a martyr.Redistribute the work with my family members, Practice prayer and gratitude.
Examples of how I break down my spiritual practices, reflecting for redirecting.


In high school, I learned that inertia is the energy of continuing in the same direction. When we hit the brakes in the car, our bodies automatically continue in the forward direction until the force of the brakes overpowers the inertia. And, it takes less energy to change direction than come to a complete stop.

Spiritually, it is time for me to interrupt a few patterns that God has revealed as not serving me well. Luckily for me, I have a lot of practice at interrupting that needs redirecting!

A Pandemic Litany of Thanks

A Pandemic Litany of Thanks

We are walking through the strangest of days, living in a state of prolonged grief, change, and fatigue. Though the measure and kind vary between us, challenges are a shared reality right now. The first letter to the Thessalonians instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (5:18). This thanksgiving, I am challenging myself to practice this more actively.

On setting down our defenses…

On setting down our defenses…

Photo Credit: Tim Yaworski @livingskyguy It has been my experience that defense often follows discomfort when reconciliation is needed. In my Catholic faith tradition, discomfort can be understood as a gift that invites us to turn back, to repent, to make right. And...

The cost of (my) comfort

The cost of (my) comfort

I was reflecting on this shift with one of our new Indigenous members. I said that things were uncomfortable for some. And she said, with the characteristic honesty that I have come to love deeply, “Welcome to what it feels like for me all the time.”

Holding tension with the God who waits…

Holding tension with the God who waits…

When I sit under the stars, I feel my relative smallness in the universe and a simultaneous gratitude that God saw fit to have a place for me in it. I feel called to step into this massive work of creation and place my tiny hands in God’s eternal hands and hold the tension alongside the Spirit.

Making space for living in the middle of the mess

Making space for living in the middle of the mess

Over the last four years, maybe one of my biggest learnings is that the mess is not just a place to clean up or avoid. Hiding it away (whether for showing a house or perpetuating my denial) doesn’t make it any less real. The mess waits, bides its time, slowly seeps out of the cracks of inevitable imperfection. The mess is a space we live in. Because the alternative is to suspend our living while we wade through the mess.

Simplicity as Spiritual Survival

Simplicity as Spiritual Survival

As fall turned to winter, I found a prayer for life transitions in Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. We were considering a move, in the middle of a pandemic. It all felt very complicated. And the opening line of the prayer resonated with me: “Lord, help...

Enough is merely enough: On needing a Saviour

Enough is merely enough: On needing a Saviour

The problem with letting God catch me is that I have to jump. I have to give over the middle and the end, precisely at the place that feels most vulnerable. In the height of risk, surrender is the call. I want to let it ring. I’ll call back when it works better for me. Despite thousands of recitations of the words, it turns out that I am not okay with being enough. I want to be everything. I want to jump and catch, and the world does not work that way.

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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