Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.
Photo Credit: Marc Perrault
Leading a retreat last week, I said that gratitude saved my life during depression; it has been the single most important spiritual practice of my life, especially during grief. We had a beautiful conversation about the authenticity of gratitude and how challenging the practice is. We talked about what happens when thankfulness is forced on us rather than freely chosen, or how damaging it can be when it feels false or glosses over pain.
The conversation sat with me over thanksgiving weekend, and I was reflecting on Ann Voskamp’s insistence that “thanksgiving precedes the miracle.” I was remembering Jesus at the last supper: “When he had given thanks, he broke the bread and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19a).
As I was reading stories to my littlest and listening to my older kids play with their cousin, I was overwhelmed by the grammar of God’s gratitude. In the gospel, thanksgiving is a dependent clause. Jesus gives thanks and breaks the bread to give it to us. Gratitude saved my life because it was interconnected to the action that followed it. Separated from my life, words of thanks are empty at best, and repressive at worst.
Integrated into the sentences that follow, thanksgiving grounds me in reality seeing what is good even in the midst of the deepest pain. Thanks acknowledges what is as well as well as my need. Gratitude pours me out so I can be filled. Thanksgiving pushes me toward the next right thing.
And so I felt the need to write a litany of thanksgiving and the actions that follow them, the thanksgiving and living that lets God in and works the miracles that follow.
A Thanksgiving Litany
When he had given thanks, he broke the bread and gave it to them.
When she had given thanks, she set down her drink and went to a meeting.
When she had given thanks, she cried for all the times she fought back tears.
When she had given thanks, she decided to start over.
Giving thanks, he stopped fighting and went to a parenting class.
Giving thanks, he called a friend and asked to talk.
Giving thanks, he apologized to the one he hurt.
Whispering thanks, she received the help that was offered.
Speaking thanks aloud, she stopped apologizing for existing.
Shouting thanks, she walked into the world that was waiting for her.
Offering thanks, he allowed another to heal him.
Laughing thanks, he took his place on the team.
Delighting with thanks, he accepted the job.
Resisting thanks, they saw the beauty in the sun rising over their broken hearts.
Without understanding thanks, they buried the one gone too soon.
Crying thanks, they held the ones still living.
Seeing gratitude where there was only darkness, we called the number on the back of the card.
Seeing gratitude as a way to hope, we went to therapy appointments.
Seeing gratitude as a promise, we chose to trust again.
When we had given thanks, we ate the feast and missed you.
When we had given thanks, we gave the kids a bath and put them to bed, again.
When we had given thanks, we went to bed to try again tomorrow.
When Jesus had given thanks, he broke the bread and gave it to them.
When he had given thanks, he asked John to take care of his mother.
When he had given thanks, Jesus breathed his last breath and trusted.
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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…
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.