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

Receiving the Gift may be the hardest work of all…

Receiving the Gift may be the hardest work of all…

Jesus arrives and we receive the One we have awaited. The seasons and feast days of church calendars exist not only to change the colours and routines of faith life, but also change the way we live our whole lives. We learn to practice waiting – in joyful hope – for Jesus to arrive. And this practice waiting and receiving is meant to help us get better at waiting and receiving in the rest of our lives too.

For more than 15 years now, I have been baking with children’s “help.” I am pretty terrible at playing imagination games, but I have embraced the inevitable egg crashing to the floor. The dusting of flour across shirts and floors is a reminder to me that they are learning. Their enthusiasm for licking the spoon, watching the rising through the oven door, and eating our results is a great reminder of what joyful waiting should be.

At the same time, embracing baking with kids has also taught me to expect chaos. Fights over whose turn it is, Measurements less than precise. Double or triple batches to compensate for mistakes. We talk lots about how things do not always turn out the way we expect, and how to be gentle with ourselves and our results.

Decorating goes much the same way. Weighing at least six different opinions, we choose the spots that will hold our special things. We share in the work of vaccuming and dusting to make the space ready. Boxes come up from the basement and in from the garage. Stools to place the ornaments at just the right height on the tree.

The dog yelps because someone didn’t see her when they stepped off the tree. We didn’t get the right candy for the Advent calendar. Two kids constantly move the nativity characters back to their preferred arrangement. No one likes my favourite Christmas album, but they humour me. We talk about the gifts that will be under the tree, and how you may not be receiving everything – or anything – from your list.

When the kids were all still very small, I directed and executed most of this work. As a result, things were mostly the way I liked them. I knew that I was trying to teach them, but I did could not anticipate how they would learn.

This year, with the youngest four, they could do easily more than half of the work without me. I have been waiting for them to grow, to help, to lead, and now they can. It’s a new kind of hard to allow them to put things where they want them, to hear and receive their opinions, to let them develop their own ways.

Charlize did 90 per cent of the homemade Oreo cookies we make every year. She can read the recipe, measure the ingredients, use the mixer. When she doesn’t know, she asks for help. I am to give very minimal instruction because she knows. I did not recognize when I began to teach my children that they would learn their own ways, both a challenge and a gift for me.

Especially when the gift we long for is a person, receiving the gift changes everything. We practice preparing because we are waiting for a new life, with a Divine Other, whose presence will disrupt and unsettle us in the process of offering peace and joy.

So much of my ability to receive (others as) gifts depends on my willingness to be displaced – from my comfort, my self-righteousness, my resistance to interdependence. Many people are walking through very challenging seasons of life right now – job changes, ill health, financial stress, overwhelming grief. Everything happens. God does not cause our pain but will not waste it. This is the work of Advent and Christmas: to receive Jesus in what is, and in what is coming.

May we open our hearts to the cracks in our lives that will let God’s light in. May we receive the gifts that are offered this Christmas, even if they aren’t the ones we wanted. And may we remember that grace can come in every package.

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.

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.

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 setting down our defenses…

On setting down our defenses…

Photo Credit: Tim Yaworski @livingskyguy It has been my experience that defense often follows discomfort when reconciliation is needed. In my Catholic faith tradition, discomfort can be understood as a gift that invites us to turn back, to repent, to make right. And...

The cost of (my) comfort

The cost of (my) comfort

I was reflecting on this shift with one of our new Indigenous members. I said that things were uncomfortable for some. And she said, with the characteristic honesty that I have come to love deeply, “Welcome to what it feels like for me all the time.”

Holding tension with the God who waits…

Holding tension with the God who waits…

When I sit under the stars, I feel my relative smallness in the universe and a simultaneous gratitude that God saw fit to have a place for me in it. I feel called to step into this massive work of creation and place my tiny hands in God’s eternal hands and hold the tension alongside the Spirit.

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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