Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.
I have been thinking a lot over the last couple of years about how God comes to us. In tragedy and grief, in deep joy and hope, in confusion and in waiting. In all these places, I am deeply convinced that he comes. Still, I often struggle to recognize him.
I think when I go looking for God, I look so decidedly from where I am. Each experience has me looking from a different place and space in myself. And as I get lost and found, I expect God to show up in certain ways, and then find myself surprised.
It isn’t new to reflect on how Jesus comes to us at Christmas, but something new has emerged for me from my reflection this year. On pewter ornaments and in old worn nativities, in art from every century and many of the world’s nations, Jesus is depicted in swaddling clothes, coming among us. And he usually looks like the artist, in the time and place that they find themselves.
I look for God as I am. This is a miracle of our creation in God’s image meeting God’s taking on human flesh, that we can imagine a God like ourselves. So, in one sense, I am not surprised that I look for God lost and waiting, God grieving and afraid, God full of joy and longing in hope.
Sometimes, I find God in these spaces in the scriptures, in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, in Samaria and the Jordan River, in Samaria and Egypt. And sometimes, I find him crying into my pillow with me, marveling at Atticus’ joy at the Christmas tree, or sitting with me in my office chair waiting.
But maybe more often, I don’t find God in the places I expect. I ask a question and hear silence. I feel lost and God allows me to stay there for awhile. Things I want to be resolved in days take years (of confusion, as well as patience). God is so much deeper and more than I could want or hope for.
We depict God in so many ways, and these depictions suggest some of the ways God can work, but they aren’t exhaustive. God allows the depictions and is not limited by them. I think this is my favourite thing about all relationships – that my preconceived ideas about who others are will always be insufficient. Who you are is always bigger and more that I can know.
This Christmas, I have been reflecting on how God comes to us as he is. In the nativity, that means an infant, vulnerable and human, in need of us as much as we are in need of him. He wasn’t what people were expecting.
As I prepare to celebrate the God who comes to us where we are, again and again, I am delighting that who God is always exceeds my experience and understanding. The space between who God is and where I am means that there is mystery and possibility between us, that the encounter can be messier and longer and more awkward than I want. And it is always more real and more respectful because we both get to be who we are.
Over the Christmas season, we will navigate who sleeps where for family gatherings, what food to eat, and which traditions will work. We will gather with some of our people and wish it was possible to be in the same room as others. Meltdowns will accompany moment of contentment and joy. By the end, we will be ready for routine to return again.
God comes – for all of it. As I prepare to celebrate Christmas, I’m trying to let go of my expectations of God, and everyone else. It is freeing to come as I am, ready or not, and let others do the same.
In the sacred spaces when I find myself sitting with God-with-us, my picture of God expands. Then, so does my understanding of who I am. And, I find more space to love the world as it is. It is the closest thing to peace on earth for me. May there be a moment or two this Christmas where who I am collides with who He is. That’s what I want for Christmas.
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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.