Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.
Fall into Grace
Photo: Leah Perrault
Several weeks ago, Eliot brought home a note for his school ski trip and asked if I would like to come as a chaperone. I know these requests could stop coming and I love being out on the hill, so I planned to go. I have been a snowboarder since my teens, which was surprising even two and a half decades before I could be called middle-aged. I went to be with he and his friends, and I went (without smaller children in tow) to test out if it is time for me to trade my snowboard in for skis. It is getting dangerous to risk a fall.
The day was wonderful. The kids were full of happy energy on the bus. The weather was perfect with sun and warmer temperatures but no ice forming. Eliot’s friends had lessons opposite his, so I got to hang out one on one with him for more than half the day. And between helping kids find lost gear and get up from their own wipe-outs, I went up and down the ski hill thinking about how not to fall.
Snowboarding is strange because it relies on sideways momentum rather than forward and back. Where we are used to distributing weight and movement between two feet, snowboarding holds the two feet together. The whole body has to move – or fall – together. The last few winters, I could feel my fear of falling increasing alongside my age.
I can also feel my awareness of risk increasing as I get older. The boundless energy and bold confidence of my twenties has given way to practical conservation of resources and more measured risk assessment. This is both healthy and a loss. I sat quietly, alone on the chair lift, feeling the strength in my legs, anticipating the deep powder on the next run. I love the sidelong back and forth of the snowboard beneath my feet and my whole body following in each turn.
I felt the wind blow across my face as the lift neared the top, whispering something I forgot: I know how to fall. If it happens, I know how to get low to minimize injury. I ride with open hands that close instinctively to fists to protect my wrists. My basic workouts are strengthening my body, and I am attentive to fatigue. Before I take off, I choose runs with intention and can go very slowly in sections that are too icy or steep. I allow myself to slow to a controlled fall to avoid one that is more dangerous.
With delight, I discovered that I am not too old to snowboard – yet.
When I got home, I arrived home to a sick child who couldn’t sleep. She and I have been struggling to connect and more often than not, I do not know immediately how to help her. I made a choice to fall into bed beside her, and to fall into the rhythm of the prayers of my ancestors, fingers for beads, prayers for lullabies.
My prayer life is a constant haphazard collection of habits picked up here and there: prayers triggered bells and sirens and dish soap, silent contemplation in between mom and work duties, fragments of poetry and written prayers wedged in the pages of all my books, and others written into my mind and heart. I used to beat myself up for not being more consistent, more formatted, more anything than what I am, but I learned that there is no wrong way to pray.
These days, my most frequent prayers with words fall into grace:
I do not understand.
I do not know.
For years, I have known that the prayers of my parents, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents and elders have carried me in a particularly powerful way. I think I am starting to understand why. They know how to fall into grace, and thrust me into God’s hands.
Someday, I will retire my snowboard when the risks or reality of a fall remove the joy it brings. I will give her a worthy retirement then. For now, though, I am grateful for the way she floats me over the snow, reminding me that I can let myself fall –into snow and into grace.
Seeing grace and sifting through clutter
In all the sifting, I am seeing the moments that make up my life.
Trusting what is to take us where we need to go
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.
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.
A prayer for hope in the wreckage
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.
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
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.
There’s something at work in the waiting
But mostly, we will spend our lives waiting. For a special day. To see a favourite person. For a goal or dream to be realized. To be healed. For a baby to be born.
Interrupting patterns for spiritual growth
Photo Credit: Michelle Parley Interrupting is a bad habit I have been working to break for a long time, with some success and more work yet to do. And every struggle has a flip-side strength: while I need to stop speaking over people, the weakness is driven by a...
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.
Soft, a still more excellent way…
Harden not my heart.
Or my spirit.
Lead me to a still more excellent way.
Soften me to a strength
that goes well beyond
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.