Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.
Photo Credit: Maryanne Reed
Curiosity is not my first response. The little voice is so imploring: “Is there just one more packet of seeds in this drawer, Mommy? I just need to plant one more packet of seeds.” I am making dinner, on a timeline, and the combination of little hands in the junk drawer and the garden boxes raises my blood pressure. I just want to finish cooking. Who has time for curiosity?
Turns out, I do.
Since my typical reaction in the past has not produced the peace I longed for, I am cultivating curiosity out of desperation more than virtue. God does not seem to care about my motivations for growth; in fact, my compulsions seem to be a favourite spot in the garden of my heart. Right in the middle of my biggest, most deeply rooted weeds, God likes to plant fledglings. Curiosity is a tender shoot between a tree-sized thistle of impatience and a portulaca web of control.
While I was out one evening last week, and with the blessing of a relaxed babysitter, my girls found a packet or two of flower seeds and scattered them all over the yard to their heart’s content. It was a glorious evening for them. Tonight’s interruption is a continuation of their joy. My plan for leaving the house in time for swimming lessons is evaporating along with the hope of growing vegetables in the garden boxes.
But it isn’t only in the kitchen and the yard that impatience and a desire for control are disturbing my inner peace. The internet in the last weeks has been a hot mess of polarization on life issues. I waded into conversation on a topic I typically avoid, and my curiosity grew a few more leaves.
Conflict presents us with lots of options: avoidance, engagement, entrenchment, positioning, convincing, or a host of other things. I’ve tried most of them and nothing seems to work like curiosity. When I ask questions of another, I find myself surprised at the questions that emerge in myself. I learned about his experience and point of view, and I learned more about myself.
Curiosity is an antidote for my defensiveness. Pausing to compose a question draws on the well of authenticity. Curiosity posits that a seed has been planted by someone other than me and wonders what will grow.
On the internet and in my yard, things happen without my knowledge and permission. Terrible and wonderful things. And then I come wandering into the mess of it and discover the freedom in wondering.
Stirring the noodles while the baby clings to my shins, I breathe deep and ask, “Why do you like planting so much?” She stops spilling pens on the floor and exclaims, “Because seeds and water and sun grow surprises, Mommy.”
I want to grow neat rows of cucumbers and carrots. In May, it’s easy to imagine the produce and forget about the weeds that will need to be pulled in July. I won’t have the time I hope for then either, and little fingers will be less discriminating than is ideal when I go to put the baby down for a nap. More surprises await us, to be sure.
There are little pots of wildflowers growing tentatively in the windowsill. There are little piles of soil on the ledge and the floor no matter how many times I wipe them away. There’s a little girl who smiles every time she looks at them and worries whenever someone else gets too close. What might grow if I make room for the messy gardening, the inevitability that some of the beloved sprouts will die, and the inconvenient tears that will follow? It is the season for cultivating curiosity. So often in my life, I have been shocked to discover that God has let creation go to seed and that there is beauty in the mess of it. There isn’t enough time or energy in my world to try to tame the wildness in the yard or my daughter. Curiosity opens the gate to the surprises, to the beauty in what I have not yet seen or understood. I am making time for that.
There are little pots of wildflowers growing tentatively in the windowsill. There are little piles of soil on the ledge and the floor no matter how many times I wipe them away. There’s a little girl who smiles every time she looks at them and worries whenever someone else gets too close. What might grow if I make room for the messy gardening, the inevitability that some of the beloved sprouts will die, and the inconvenient tears that will follow?
. To be honest, I am better at repenting (and the accompanying self-criticism) than I am at rejoicing. Besides, doesn’t everybody know that joy is dangerous?
Two long years have passed since Abbie’s death, and I might believe it was yesterday if five inches of hair hadn’t grown since then. Last year, I was in shock that we had all survived a year without her. The second year has been harder still, facing the permanence of lifetime of her absence.
Healing was not the invitation I was expecting when I showed up at church several weeks ago. I arrived focused on the harsh words and tone I had exacted on my family in the days before. I want so badly to be kind and patient, loving and gentle. Going to church felt like walking into the brick wall of my own failure. I’ve been walking with God in silence for the better part of two years, so I was surprised by the flood welling high enough in my chest to cut through my guilt: it is time for healing.
My heart gets hardened in a thousand tiny ways, each almost imperceptible in ordinary moments. Softness comes from the same small and abundant moments. Softening, I am coming to believe, is a much more difficult way.
Every so often, the garage door opens and I notice what love is doing in me. It is the evolution I was made for.
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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.