Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.
Photo by Darryl Millette
Beauty surprised me last week when I walked out to the car with a small hand in mine last week: “Mommy, the road is sparkling!” Charlize’s awe caught in my throat. Sunlight and snow make the most glorious glitter with no purchase or clean up required. I have been so focused lately that I forgot how beautiful life is.
So many of life’s seasons bring anticipation of what is coming or longing for what has been. Living in time has a way of pulling us out of the present, but beauty is an invitation into the gifts of now.
Unable to shake the catch in my throat, I’ve been collecting beauty all week. At first I tried to capture it on my camera, but my elementary photography skills wouldn’t do the moments justice and then they were gone. Then I tried to write them all down but the effort of trying to hold onto the beauty lessened my ability to be present to it.
And so, I’ve been drinking them in. The heat in my hands wrapped around a cup of tea made for me by a red-headed girl with a huge heart. Blooms on my Christmas cactus welcoming me into my office every morning for weeks. Clean sheets wrapped around my arms and legs.
I’ve been breathing in the frost and marveling at the way that cold makes it possible to feel every hair on my neck and in my nose. The sound of snow being rolled into snow men and scraped off the sidewalk. Frost clinging to trees, and leaving art on my windows.
In the harder moments of the last while, I’ve been digging deeper to find beauty where I would rather not see it. It is beautiful that a child who is frustrated and angry calls my name and has a mom to respond. There is relief of a good cry and the arms of my partner in the midst of disappointment. Endless rain for a few days on Vancouver Island offered the most refreshing smell.
The constancy of beauty in difficulty challenges me spiritually: do I really want to see what is beautiful? It is so much less effort for me to get caught up in resisting what is hard, to see what is painful and undesirable, and to cling to a vision for reality that doesn’t exist.
It is a lie that beauty cannot exist in suffering and disease, struggle and death, and the lie gives way to habitual rejection of beauty in my midst. My access to beauty comes down to the habits I nurture with my eyes and my heart. The beauty is there whether or not I let it into my soul.
Annie Dillard, after watching a group of birds take flight, wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that “Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” We are walking through a heartbreakingly beautiful world all the time. Grace is flowing through the world in its joy and in its sorrow. I can be carried by the flow or step outside it or try to run against it. When things are most challenging, that is when I most need to remember there is beauty here.
I want to practice curating beauty, participating in its fleeting possibilities, being carried away by the impossibility of it. I want to form a habit seeing and delighting in the free gifts in every moment. I want to be breathless from the beauty of it all – all the time.
The most wonderful thing about working on this habit is that beauty is finding me. The shade of purple on the bag sitting on my desk. People who love me enough to tell me when I have hurt them, the beauty of offering an apology, and the hope of starting over again. The light pouring in my window. I gently open my eyes and my heart and that is enough. Wherever I am, there is beauty to accompany what is.
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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.