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

Seeing grace and sifting through clutter

Seeing grace and sifting through clutter

Saturday morning in early June. Sunshine streaming through lilac bushes. Birds singing from underneath leaves that seem to have grown overnight. And tables full of things we hope other people will like well enough to take home when we open up the garage door. There are stories attached to the stuff. The kids keep changing their minds and sneaking things back in the house. The seeing and the sifting happen simultaneously.

Despite moving just a year ago, there are enough things gathered to have a decent little garage sale. I’ve been sifting through boxes and closets, removing things that we no longer use and just don’t fit in our new world. It amazes me how our memories are held not just in our bodies but also in our things.

I hold the smallest lifejackets, checking that they are actually too small for the smallest kids even though I have known the answer for three seasons already. I can hear the laughter on the boat, see the scrunched up baby-face that hated the lifejacket, feel the spray of water on my face when I held a sleeping niece wearing it. There isn’t room to hold on to it if we need to store the bigger sizes we need now.

Books that tucked us in. Tupperware too big and too small. The first costumes our kids wore to the grocery store. Picture frames and a house phone. A casserole dish and a lid without a pot. Ponies with the hair brushed out. Wall art and the last swing set. Sifting and not seeing.

I wore the same dress for a hundred days this winter, a challenge to interrupt fast fashion and experiment with wool. It taught me that I need so much less than I think I do (and also that very few people notice or care what I am wearing). I am learning to do more mending and buy second hand. I am seeing the contents of my life with a longer view.

The kids have been begging for a garage sale for years. I have been resisting. We still needed so many of the things we had. And, maybe more honestly, garage sales are a lot of work. It is easier to close the closet door than sort through the contents. Easier to hold on to the things than let them go with the memories they hold.

It doesn’t seem fair that there is just too much life to remember all the moments.

Sitting in the sun on a cooler full of cookies and puffed wheat squares. Knees knocking against the kid-sized table. A hand-written sign for the lemonade stand. Seeing and not seeing.

The four-year-old surprised us with the most stamina for sales. I do not feel nostalgic for the sleepless years, but I love four-year-olds. The honesty without a filter. The sponge brains that repeat everything they are learning. The confidence of knowing everything and finally having the words to say it all. He sat on the driveway welcoming people and offering them lemonade for most of the day.

He spilled it. He tried to pay people instead of taking their loonies. He danced when someone said yes. “Mom,” he said, about two hours in, “This is the best day ever. Can we have another garage sale yesterday?”

It was a perfect day. Extended family and laughter. Cousins buying jewels from the next sale down with their pocket change. Neighbours wandering through to look and to buy. Trading like-new Tupperware for ten bucks and a home-made tea roll. Kids learning to talk to strangers. Letting go of our past life to make room for the present and the future.

In all the sifting, I am seeing the moments that make up my life. Seeing and cherishing the people that we were and the people we are becoming. Seeing past the colours and shapes transmitted by my eyes, and seeing the grace of living. Let me live here.

I love the miracle that God created a world where atoms and molecules combine into matter that matters. Nature and fiber and textures that cradle us into life and carry us through.

There are times for acquiring and roaming far away, and times for coming home and sifting through. Days pass, one after another, in this space between a pandemic and whatever follows after. I want my stuff to help me see what matters.

Trusting what is to take us where we need to go

Trusting what is to take us where we need to go

Photo Credit: Marc Perrault

Trust wasn’t the lesson I was expecting when my partner planned a surprise anniversary weekend away. Seventeen years later, we returned to the Cypress Hills where we stayed as newlyweds. The lodgepole pines appear not to have changed as much as we have.

I have confessed my allergy to nature before. The condo style room in the park in early May is a better fit than we knew all those years ago. It is still cold enough that my skin doesn’t itch from the heat and there aren’t enough fires or leaves to make my nose and lungs revolt. Marc had plenty of beauty to capture with the camera, though the clouds sadly covered the stars. There was great scenery for knitting and playing board games.

And there were trails for hiking. This isn’t a first choice of activity for either of us, but the park was quiet, still melting away the final patches of snow and silently awaiting the summer crowds. I was trusting that something different would be good.

At the entrance to our most challenging trail choice, I laughed out loud at the warning to watch for cougars. “It would be a great irony,” I said, smiling at Marc, “if I died in a wildlife attack on a hiking trail.” He agreed. I can definitely count on my fingers the number of trails I’ve attempted in my life, and most have only had the danger of my tripping over my own feet.

I became breathless on the climbs and focused on my footing on the declines. Seventeen years has given way to comfortable silences and conversation that stops and starts through two decades of memories. The lodgepole pines towered above us, shrinking the significance of our years together.

I stared up at the trees, a green canopy meters above us, with only old dead remnants of the branches near the ground. The younger trees, green and spindly, stretching up to compete for the sunlight. Hard pinecones forming on the undersides of the older trees, dropping to the ground to wait for a fire to break them open.

The forest floor is a mess. Dropped pine needles, interrupted with deer droppings. Broken branches and fallen trees from the windstorm days before, layered on the trunks from seasons past. Grass and leaves and tiny flowers breaking though wherever enough light and water allows.

“What are you thinking about?” Marc asked in one of the long flat sections. “About how the trees grow up and discard the parts of themselves they don’t need anymore,” I breathed. “About how messy growth is. And how I simultaneously am embarrassed by my younger self and grieve when she goes. I like how the trees grow and make me more patient with my own growth.”

I am in the awkward stages of early middle age, still having so much yet to do and knowing in ways my younger self couldn’t how much effort and perseverance and suffering it takes to build with love. Now, I am ready to let go of the mirror’s distortions as I care more about who I become and who I love well than how I look while I do it.

And it is the forest, rather than a single tree that leads to the trusting. Together, the trees make shade. The wind blows through them to make the gentle creak of their swaying, a constant whisper that assures us we are not alone. Together, they rise and fall. They drop the seeds of their growth so more trees will follow them. The next generation of forest will rise out of this one, exactly as it is, in all its glorious imperfection.

Near the end, I was surprised by a tree suspended vertically, its broken trunk hanging just above my knees. It fell nearly forty feet, suspended in the branches of a younger tree beneath it. “There you are,” I whispered to my sister, the maid of honour who left us just before year twelve. Creation carries the living and the dead, the dreams already realized and the ones to big to see just yet.

This place we are in right now is exactly the place from which we will become what we will be. If the dream is to be realized, it will rise out of what is now. The only thing to do is to be brave enough to take the next step, and the next one. Sometimes the path is clear, and sometimes we will forge our own.

The years pass so quickly and the moments matter so much. May we let go of the branches that no longer serve us. May we be nourishment to the creatures that rely on us for food, for love, for play. May our brokenness and our strength offer hope and healing where it is needed. May we never stop trusting that what is now will be the path to where we need to go. Amen.   

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering


Photo Credit: Becky Stevenson

When I think about the long list of things I need to practice, resurrection has never made the list. But I have been returning to the theme year after year in my writing. In 2017, I wrote about not being ready to rise. The next year, I was baking buns and reflecting on relaxing into the rising work of God. And then, the danger of daring to embrace joy. Apparently, I need more practice than I thought.

My (Catholic) faith tradition is really well-known for nailing Lent (pun wittily composed). And with our reputation for ashes and penance and giving up stuff, we have also received a collective inheritance of Catholic guilt and a tendency toward solemnity. Ashes and repentance are only one part of the Paschal story that is the heart of our faith: they are meant to lead us into resurrection.

 We’ve all been walking through an exceptionally extended pandemic lent in the liturgy of our lives. This long season has asked us to enter into a sacrificial suffering, a humility of spirit for the sake of those most at risk. And in the process, we have practiced being especially discerning, sacrificial, and solemn about life. Because we become through our behaviour, the season of surviving the suffering has changed us.

For many, as the world opens up, the things we used to take for granted feel like miracles. Gatherings of more than small groups. Seeing smiles. Reaching out to touch or hug a friend. And at the same time, these things feel risky, and still are. For those receiving cancer treatments or living with autoimmune conditions, isolation has become even more necessary now.

We have been practicing caution for so long, joy can feel out of reach. It is time to practice resurrection.

Christians on the Roman calendar celebrate Easter for fifty days. Note that this is 10 days longer than Lent and the Christmas season barely hits the double digits. Most of us can hardly handle a celebration that lasts longer than seventy-two hours before we crave the rest of ordinary time. We rush home from whatever plans we have scribbled on the calendar and retreat into sweat pants and laundry and a good tv binge to recover from indulging in our over-the-top celebrations.

But what would it look like to practice rising, to live into resurrection in our every-day lives in a way that we can sustain? Is this not what the joy of the resurrection invites?

The restrict-and-binge cycle is not a healthy or holy way. There is a time for sacrifice and a time for abundance, a time for repentance and a time for celebration. And we can practice both as they are needed, moving in and out of one and the other, hour by hour and day by day.

Even while we hold our own and the world’s pain, we can practice resurrection. We can take a walk and delight in the signs of spring. Count the buds forming on trees, the flowers breaking through cold earth. We can set our prayers for the suffering in the arms of God for an hour and let ourselves laugh till our sides ache.

Salvation is something that God gives to us by working it out in us. In order to receive the gift, we have to cooperate with it. It isn’t enough that Jesus died for me if I insist on earning salvation by being a grouchy martyr; I have to receive the gift, opening it up and letting it change me.

God invites me to delight in joy, to receive it and wonder at it, to choose it over and over again. Will I practice setting down my misery, no matter how valid, to giggle with my toddler before bed? Can I practice seeing the miracle of the person in front of me even while they fold the towels differently that I do? Am I willing to delight in the absolute perfection of my favourite song on the lips of my teenager coming from her messy room?

What if the world knew the followers of Jesus as the joyful ones? Jesus’ resurrection is not just a day, but is actually our present and our future. May we spread the Easter candy and good news over all the days instead of just a select few. May we practice rising with the same tenacity as our repentance. And may the resurrection we practice bring new life out of the ashes of the last two years.

A prayer for hope in the wreckage

A prayer for hope in the wreckage

Photo Credit: Sarah Tosh Manafo

As the world feels like it might give way into dust, I’m clinging to a promise of hope. I can still feel the faint dry spot on my forehead where it was marked with ashes. We haven’t been promised permanence, and that pisses me off. The profanity feels necessary. And still. The eternal Word promised to be with us always. Hope is falling, even here.

Too many times I have heard that everything happens for a reason; I am increasingly convinced it is a lie from the pit of hell designed to let the violent and abusive off the hook. But a quieter truth whispers hope when I am afraid: God wastes nothing.

Droplets of water, grains of sand, collections of air blown by the wind. This is the stuff that God has used to form the most majestic parts of creation. Why would humanity be any different?

From my earliest memories, I can recall staring up at the sky in wonder at how small a speck of creation I occupy. In a vast universe, I am nearly nothing and yet my heart proclaims my existence with each muscled beat. God is so deeply invested in all of it, without being controlling of any of it.

All this life is so full of meaning and so fleeting at the same time.

We wade through the wreckage of the pandemic we have been living in. We watch as a beautiful people are threatened with weapons and rubble. We do the next right thing, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

Since God grieves with the ones who mourn, shares in their sorrow, echoes in the rallying cries of peace and justice, I know deeper than I have known anything in my life that God does not cause destruction. I’m counting grains of sand, strollers and canned good, notes of the Ukrainian anthem sung by my neighbours. I am counting the tears of refugees, the bodies of the dying, the impossible number of dreams left behind. I am gathering up the wreckage to offer it back to the One who will make it all new.

Here we are, Maker of Heaven and Antelope Canyon. Here are the pieces, Prince of Peace and Pripyat (a city abandoned after the Chernoble explosion). Right here is our desire and our destruction, God of the lowly and the least. Take all that we have and all that we are. Everything that we have made and all that we have broken.

Waste none of it. Make the very wreckage a sign of our hope.

May no flower petals fall without becoming something more beautiful. May no life be lived without witness or memory. May every breath give way to a wind of change. Take the sacrifices, the courage, the losses, and work your resurrection.

This is the God who brought the Israelites out of slavery and exile. This Presence was with Daniel in a lion’s den, Esther in a castle, Jonah in the belly of a whale.

Be with us now.

We are exhausted and unsure, and we are not alone. All of the majesty and misery of earth is passing away and a miracle. Give us the strength to love for this moment and the next one. Keep us counting the cost, measuring the weight, bearing one another’s burdens.

Soften the hearts of all of humanity that we might believe that hope is enough when we cannot be certain. And when we see someone losing hope, let us hope for them, carrying them along until they can take another step. When it is my turn, remind me that I will need you to hope for me.

Hold our fears, cradle our confusion, stay the uncertainty. Show us the cracks that will let in light. Lead us to the people who will offer what we need and receive what you have given us to give away. Sustain us past the point that all seems lost.

Detach us from the painful expectation of permanence. Receive everything we offer. Make the wreckage into something worthy of the pain.

May our collective sorrow and radical acts of love be gathered up in You, source of our Hope.

Amen.

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

Photo Credit: Darryl Millette

It is a January deep freeze in Saskatchewan and my three-year-old buries himself in his blanket in the morning and says, “It’s cold and I’m tired. I’m not getting out of bed.” He just says what the rest of us are feeling. Navigating out of holiday mode and back into real life in a winter new year is a stretch. I have literally nothing left for resolution. It is a good thing that grace is God’s way.

Resolution talk still lingers in the frigid air. Diet ads find their way into my feed despite considerable efforts to exclude them. Omicron is snowing over our collective longing to be rid of the pandemic. I need discipline and hope more than ever. If past performance is any reliable indicator, I am most likely to rely on grand plans that exhaust and deplete me as well as my people. When I am defeated or give up, I resort to the opposite: don’t bother trying and then you can’t fail. There has been a lot of resigned lack of effort in surviving the pandemic.

After a major trauma, it has been my experience that human capacity for intentional progress on goals is diminished. My therapists reminded me constantly that healing is rarely linear, and though we participate in it, we respond to life in healing ways rather than direct our own healing. I dislike this. And still, I have found it to be true. Healing is a flow of grace that comes from beyond me.

The pandemic has felt so similar to the intense grieving that followed my sister’s death: unanticipated, unpredictable, and unending. There has been so much to let go of, to endure, to struggle through. And two years in, our family is still learning how to live here. (Even with three years to practice before).

I’m feeling the new year urges to new life. The hope that comes from celebrating the birth, once again, of a divinity that comes to where I am, no matter how resigned. There have been persistent invitations pressing at my heart now for awhile: to move, to risk, to become. It feels dangerous after all this surviving to respond to an invitation to living more deeply.

After all of the losses, I know that I cannot handle firm resolutions and reliance on my (stubborn) will. Neither has had lasting success before the trauma anyway. The unexpected upside of being so plowed under is that I can see with hindsight the way that grace carries me through.

Grace might be the one thread that holds me fast to faith. A constant sparkle in frosty air that disappears to my peripheral vision as soon as I try to focus on it. Love that shows up even, and maybe especially, when I least deserve it. Pain that gives way to something good.

It is cold. I am tired. And I am getting out of bed, turning on the Christmas tree lights and moving because God keeps whispering that I need to. I will not make it there every day, but it is enough that I do so gently when I can. I am tracking less time on screens and more time outside. There is a path of grace between planning to fix everything that is “wrong” with me and declaring myself a lost cause.

Here, in the break between snow storms, there is a lot of clarity under the rainbow sundogs that frame the sun whenever it appears. Grace doesn’t measure me – it moves me. Slowly, I am finding a deeper sense of myself that is not falling short but falling into a rhythm of life.

When all the things I “should” do start to overwhelm me, I listen to the sound of the hoar frost. Grace shows up when the whispered invitation meets my capacity to respond, however small and slow. Resolve is giving way to gentleness. Maybe this is what I love so much about my elders?

May this year bring me closer to the movement of the one who sends the snow. May I see the beauty in the fresh snow and the invitations God whispers. And may I remember that a gentle response is a profound participation in grace.

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering

Even while we hold our own and the world’s pain, we can practice resurrection. We can take a walk and delight in the signs of spring. We can count the buds forming on trees, the flowers breaking through cold earth. We can set our prayers for the suffering in the arms of God for an hour and let ourselves laugh till our sides ache.

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

After a major trauma, it has been my experience that human capacity for intentional progress on goals is diminished. My therapists reminded me constantly that healing is rarely linear, and though we participate in it, we respond to life in healing ways rather than direct our own healing. I dislike this. And still, I have found it to be true. Healing is a flow of grace that comes from beyond me.

Embracing complexity to find a simple peace

Embracing complexity to find a simple peace

Complexity is piling up like snowbanks on my lawn. We just get one wet snowfall shoveled in time for the next one to blow into a bank around the door. The piles started out neatly enough. But it is late winter now and the ice threatens to freeze my heart along with the missing mittens. The chaos and division desperately need some spring.

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 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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