Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.
Every summer, I wait and hope for our plans to cooperate with the weather and give us a day or two on the lake with (my parents’ beautiful) boat. We need the sunshine to keep us warm enough and the wind to stay mild enough that we can pull the tube behind the boat. The driver and the wind work together to make waves, and the riders delight at the efforts to stay on or fall in. On these rare and perfect days, I might be the biggest kid of all.
Riding waves is one of my favourite ways to play. I love the heat on my face, the wind in my hair, the cool spray of water, the anticipation of the bumps, and the thrill of holding on. I even love falling off. All the world’s worries fall away. Introducing my kids and then enjoying the rides with them is one of the best parts of parenting.
All this joy takes effort for me. I have to remind myself to loosen the muscles in my face and jaw and shoulders. To hold on with a loose and easy grip. To move with the waves instead of resisting them. I speak aloud the reminder that if I am tired, it is okay to let go and let the life jacket hold me up and the boat circle back. The kids delight in retelling the stories of my falling in.
This summer, I am trying to apply the same joy to riding the waves of life. The waves in my life have a lot of variety. Small ripples flow out from missing shoes when we are trying to leave the house. Intense choppy wakes follow teen attitudes and parental missteps, with a fairly quick settling period. Health challenges send a steady but unpredictable pattern of waves that can rock the boat significantly.
My (unrealistic and illogical) expectation for smooth waters often gets in the way of riding these waves with joy and grace. It takes the more effort to face these waves in life, but the skills are transferable. I remember, first, that waves are part of the experience of living, and can even be fun. I have a lot of experience, skills and support that can help me face these waves with grace. Relaxing into the experience works better than worrying and feeding anxieties.
As moments unfold in real-life rough waters, I can loosen my grip and consciously relax my body. I can speak aloud the things that are true. I can anticipate and appreciate the moments of rest between bumps. It is a miracle to marvel at the way the sun hits the water, even as the wind tosses me around and unsettles me.
Perhaps most importantly, I can hold on to letting go as a beautiful thing.
It is okay to be knocked over and in by a wave. I have survived each and every one that life has thrown at me so far. When I face one that threatens to do me in, I love a Creator who has conquered death. I can be assured that there is more life on the other side of any wave. And the falling is always just the opening or middle lines of a story about my rising.
Just like at the beach, there is no authorized panel of judges in my life waiting to give me a score or find me unworthy. There is only the memories and joy, middle aged aches and learning on the other side of the waves. It is not only okay, but in fact the point, to enjoy the ride.
When I lay down and let go into God, I have never met criticism – only tenderness and compassion. My experience of the divine has been constant presence in the crests and the valleys of the waves. From the tube behind the boat to my snowboard, and from parenting to the boardroom, I am learning that it is possible to ride waves with grace and joy.
May the waves be accompanied by sunshine as often as possible. May I look out for the boats and riders that may need me and trust they will watch for me. And may I find reverence, instead of resistance, for the power and gifts of the waves that come my way. Amen.
On the other side of grief, of leaving the broken, of destruction is recovering, healing, and growing something new. And one of the practices that carries through both seasons is presence. Just plain showing up for what is and who I am today is both difficult and courageous.
Owning less has been a necessity and a goal as we downsized our home with our last move. And last fall, I took up the Wool& Challenge to wear the same dress for 100 days in a row. I was intrigued (as a knitter) by the prospect of wearing wool, exhausted by the choices in my closet every morning, and challenged by the impact fashion has on the environment.
A beautiful mess is a privilege. The resources you need to love in it are right in the mess itself. Its imperfection is an invitation rather than a threat.
In writing the story of my life, however, I live through a lot of moments that won’t make the cut in the highlights or the bloopers. Our world is currently obsessed with capturing the moments and sharing them, but there is so much (and maybe more) value in the things that happen between photographs and bonfires.
In all the sifting, I am seeing the moments that make up my life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.